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Commentary: The virtues of the monarchical Westminster system of government
Published on June 4, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By David L Evans PhD

Anyone wants to be a fast runner -- what are you going to do? Follow the methods of a slow runner or those of a fast runner? The answer's pretty clear -- at least I think it is.

David L Evans PhD is a mathematics and science graduate of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, presently in Grenada, a construction consultant, a physical and medical scientist, business, quality assurance and quality control consultant, architectural designer, software engineer and educator in the process of establishing Balthazar University
Anyone want to have a successful form of government? Then do what the runner is going to do -- compare the performance of successful countries with less successful countries and take note of the style of government they have.

A little bit of history...

In Britain the populace under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell and others pushed for a democratic form of government rather than that of a monarch with chosen advisers.

The net result, as today, is a monarch (or representative) as head of state with supervisory power over an elected parliament but with no personal political power -- a defined role with a significant range of powers including 'keeping the government honest' with the ultimate power to dismiss misbehaving ministers, prime ministers and entire governments using both explicit and implied (reserve) powers.

The Commonwealth countries have generally continued with the Westminster system but there are variations. Not all have constitutions.

Amongst the most successful outside Britain (no constitution) are:

• Australia - has a constitution
• Canada - has a constitution
• New Zealand - no constitution

which have all retained the English monarch as their own monarch.

On a per head basis Japan is the most economically successful country in the world -- and it is also a constitutional monarchy -- the emperor plays much the same role as the king/queen in the Westminster system.

This system with two important people at the top -- the prime minister with the political power and monarch/governor general to keep the system of government under control, seems to work very well. Want to learn the ways of the successful runner -- then stick with or adopt their method.

What's the other major political system in the Americas? The presidential system.

What are its nuts and bolts?

A. Essentially the president is an elected king with appointed advisors (secretaries of state in the USA) and tries to carry out two roles -- head of state and political leader.

B. The lawmakers are elected as parliamentarians/congressional representatives.

The president, if he is on their side, can pass their bills into law and, if on the other side, can refuse to (veto them). At the moment the US political system is frustrated with a Democrat president who does not want to agree with the Republican lawmakers and a Republican government that cannot innovate the way it would like to, as the president blocks it whenever he wants to. And, of course, the Republicans often do not want to enact laws to facilitate what the elected king would like.

Why did the USA adopt this system? Mainly to show it was different from Britain!

How well does this work?

• Reasonably well in the USA
• Not very well in Venezuela
• Not very well in Argentina
• Not too well in Brazil but improving
• Not too well in Chile but improving

Why doesn't this system work too well? Most of the day-to-day power -- the functioning of ministries is in the hands of people with no political future -- secretaries of state appointed by the elected king (and ratified by the parliament/congress).

In the Westminster system (the system Grenada has), the ministers need to work hard producing tangible results to assist in being re-elected. They apply themselves to leading the country.

Once one cuts free from an excellent system, the firm discipline it maintains (and the accompanying successful results it can bring) can easily be eroded away by more changes.

In other words, the likely effect in Grenada of moving away from the monarchical model would be economically deleterious -- has anyone heard of crime in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago?

In Venezuela, the amount of oil being pumped daily is double what it was 50 years ago but the population is five times what it was -- and they're rather puzzled as to why their oil, gold and diamond riches are not showing up in their bank accounts. What's happened here over the past 50 years is that the advisors to the presidents, with no political future, haven't worked with any great vigour to lead the country in the other commercial development it has been and still is needing.

The elected king and elected lawmakers system is not working too well in the major South American countries -- you might understand why not -- would it make sense to go down that road? Grenada needs to get up more speed, not follow the path to even more slowing down.

Do governor generals actually keep ministers and governments honest?

Listen to this: ministers of government in Grenada have to get written permission to be out of the country and it has to be for a specific (usually government) purpose. Michael Church got permission but whilst out took an unauthorised side-trip. Upon his return he was deposed from being a minister.

In 1975, the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam could not pass the Supply Bill by the due date due to various manoeuverings in which the opposition outsmarted him, with the gamble he was taking failing to come off. The Supply Bill is the one that has to passed, at least annually, authorizing the government to spend the taxpayers’ money. If it is not passed and payments are made, the taxpayers are being defrauded. The due date passed, the public servants were paid unlawfully. The governor general sacked the prime minister, sacked the ministers a few hours later, after the opposition had suddenly, unexpectedly rushed to help pass the Supply Bill, and then dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.

Anyone want to jump onto the slippery slope and test out the muddy pool at the bottom? Has anyone noticed any countries progressing down the slippery slope? Perhaps you hadn't noticed -- some not too far away, others further away.

Now, did President Nixon impeach himself over Watergate? No way. Has any president impeached himself? So, now you may see why it is important to have two important people at the top and my suggestion is that it is best to follow the example of the most successful and stick with the best system rather than diverting to another system that in time will prove to be inferior.

Why not let the courts deal with misbehaving politicians, one may ask. It has taken several years for the court in Thailand to depose the prime minister recently for an event six years ago. Sometimes there needs to be an ultimate authority that can act quickly in serious emergency situations. In some countries the courts would not have the courage to do this but Thailand is a constitutional monarchy also.

A brief note on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Caribbean Court of Justice

The Privy Council provides a final court of appeal acting as a Commonwealth court with the best judges available and has provided valuable legal service to Commonwealth citizens around the globe. What distinguishes the Privy Council from lower courts is the quality of the judges and the quality of the judgements they issue.

The two aspects favouring the Caribbean Court of Justice are that it should be a lot cheaper to take cases to it, as London hotels are so expensive, and it is the Caribbean's own thing. My suggestion is that the Caribbean Court of Justice be, for Grenada, an extra level, with an appeal to the Privy Council remaining as a final appeal step after the Caribbean Court of Justice.
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