Tuesday, February 20, 2018

King Kamla

Kamla Persad-Bissessar is queen of both the United National Congress and the People's Partnership government, but, more importantly, she is also king of the country. And the only social force that can stop her kingship is politics — in the form of a vengeful electorate.

Not the Constitution. Not any other law.

The Constitution makes her a monarch — as it did Williams, Chambers, Manning, Robinson, and Panday before her. So, unless it is speaking from both sides of its leaden mouth, it can't at the same time deny her her moment of virtually total power.

We know from experience that she is king, but where does the Constitution say she is? In Section 75 (2), right?

Not quite. This section says as follows:

'The Cabinet shall consist of the Prime Minister and such number of other Ministers (of whom one shall be the Attorney General), appointed in accordance with the provisions of section 76, AS THE PRIME MINISTER MAY CONSIDER APPROPRIATE. (Emphasis added.)

Note that I have emphasised the last (seven-word) clause with capitals. The Prime Minister cannot appoint ministers (as we will see more clearly below), but any number of them can be appointed if she considers it appropriate.

Perhaps Section 76 (3) tells us? It says:

The Ministers other than the Prime Minister shall be such persons as the President, ACTING IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE ADVICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER, shall appoint from among the members of the House of Representatives and the Senators. (Emphasis added.)

So here we have Kamla's kingship clearer. The President can only appoint in accordance with what the Prime Minister wants. The Prime Minister is therefore the powerhouse. What she wants she gets or must get. She tells the President to appoint whomever she wants, and he is expected and required to accommodate her.

If he doesn't, which is possible, a motion in the House of Representatives, together with an investigation of the claims of the motion by the Chief Justice and four senior judges appointed by the latter, can remove him from office, even though he will not be answerable to any court of law for his actions.

Now, the Prime Minister is likely to have her way in respect of the motion since it is she who decides who in the Parliament will be ministers, senators, parliamentary secretaries, and the like. And while the motion to remove him can only succeed on the votes of at least two-thirds of the total number of representatives and senators, it will succeed because, if her government were not to have enough votes, the Opposition would vote with her since they would not want to legitimise a presidential behaviour that might come back to haunt them when their turn at government inevitably came.

So the Prime Minister is clearly king, and is such by virtue of the phrase 'the President, acting IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE ADVICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER' (Emphasis added). But even if Section 76 (3) suggests it, it is not the section that really establishes it. That honour belongs to Section 80 (1), which states:

'In the exercise of his functions under this Constitution or any other law, the President shall act IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE ADVICE OF THE CABINET OR A MINISTER ACTING UNDER THE GENERAL AUTHORITY OF THE CABINET… .'

There is that critical phrase again:

'in accordance with the advice of…' Now don't let the rest of the words '…the cabinet or a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet' distract you; they are simply code for 'the Prime Minister'. For isn't it the Prime Minister who is in charge of the Cabinet? And aren't the rest of the Cabinet beholden to her?

But the matter is more serious than that: Section 80 (1) gives the Prime Minister what amounts to a veto! She can veto the President's actions! In carrying out his functions, the President must do what the Prime Minister advises!

Yes, that's in the Constitution! The Prime Minister has power over the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President — in sum, over the Parliament. To me, that's the power of a king!

In a real democracy, no one person should have that kind of power. That power of veto belongs to the people, and perhaps the best structure in government to enshrine it in is a Senate composed of as many constituencies, both geographical and social, as possible. Such a Senate — clearly not the type we have now — should have the power to veto some of the kinds of actions of the Prime Minister and her Cabinet — for the good of the country.

So it is not appeal to law that will stop her from acting like a king but politics, not unlike the politics of social protest and demonstration that we have been witnessing for most of the People's Partnership's tenure so far.

One more thing. Those who favour the Government's draft bill for constitutional reform should take note that, under the amended Constitution, the President, as part of the legislature of the Tobago House of Assembly, would not be authorised to function apart from the Prime Minister. In the exercise of his functions, he would still have to act in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister — in respect of Tobagonian matters. What a thing!

All you autonomy seekers, you think you have the stomach for that?