Large cabinets lead to corruption: Is the Westminster model compromised?

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Minister of Transport and Local Government, Renward Wells, (L) and Speaker of the House of Assembly, Halson Moultrie

NASSAU, Bahamas — The articles by Rachel Knowles ‘Large cabinets lead to corruption’ and Jasper Ward, ‘Bahamas should remove Queen as head of State’ in the Nassau Guardian, have re-opened the debate on aspects of corruption, Cabinet, the legislature and the limitations of carbon copy Constitutions derived from independence, commonly abused willingly, throughout CARICOM and Organization of Eastern Caribbean (OECS) member states.

According to Speaker of the House of Assembly, in The Bahamas, Halson Moultrie “Oversized cabinets have over the years impeded the functionality of the legislative branch of the government and have led to corruption.”

Moultrie argues that when ministers outnumber backbench and opposition parliamentarians in the House of Assembly, legislative power is swayed too heavily towards the executive branch.

“As long as there is no separation of powers, and as long as there is executive control of the legislative branch, as a former chief meteorologist and hurricane forecaster, I forecast and predict that plunder and corruption will continue to be the order of the day,” Moultrie, speaking to a group of teachers visiting the House of Assembly.

He continued: “The system produces the result, not the personalities, and until we correct the system to cause the system to function the way it should, we will continue to repeat the history that we all really don’t want to see continued,” adding, “What has happened over the years in The Bahamas is the executive branch of government has encroached on the territory of the legislative branch of government.

“When we started to get the huge, supersized cabinets that we refer to in The Bahamas as the ‘Gussie Mae cabinets’, that process actually diminished the function of the Parliament itself, because what that did is it permitted the executive branch to have sufficient numbers in Cabinet where when the executive branch enters the parliament, they have sufficient numbers to outvote the backbench and the official opposition combined. 

“That is not a good situation to have any democracy in,” Moultrie contents, illustrating that in a parliamentary democracy, the executive branch should be accountable and subordinate to the legislative branch, but the current norm has made it so that the legislative branch, parliament, is only a “rubber stamp” of the Cabinet.

“Whenever the executive outnumbers the backbench and the opposition combined, the parliament then becomes a rubber stamp of the executive, and out the window goes accountability, transparency and all the necessary checks that the constitution puts in place for parliament or the executive branch,” he said.

“The parliament; constitutionally, is required to provide a check on the executive, and provide a forum for the ventilation of matters of public concern and to educate the public about aspects of the work of parliament.” 

But there goes the difficult part. “Constitutional reform to limit the size of Cabinet is necessary for Parliament to function as intended, Moultrie said.

“Article 72(2) says, ‘The Cabinet shall consist of the prime minister and not less than eight ministers, of whom one shall be the attorney general as may be appointed in accordance with the provisions of Article 73 of the constitution,’” he said.

“So the constitution establishes a minimum, but it leaves open the maximum, and so to bring about the proper functioning of the Parliament would require constitutional reform to limit constitutionally the size of the Cabinet, because we have the difficulty accepting, and this is throughout the third world in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, accepting the unwritten conventions of the Westminster model.”

Jasper Ward article, ‘Bahamas should remove Queen as head of State’; minister of transport and local government, Renward Wells, argued  – what many politicians and others wish for, but consequent of a stiff upper lip – to tight and chicken to speak-up in a rational manner, for fear of losing the trappings of power and offending the “Westminster model” of democracy.

The Bahamas should remove the queen as its head of state and move towards becoming a republic, Wells said. “I happen to be a republican, meaning I believe that The Bahamas should move away from the Queen as our head of state and all of those trappings,” adding “I happen to be a minority thinker in The Bahamas in that regard.”

“I have always said that,” he continued. “I mean, people know I don’t swear allegiance, I affirm. Folks believe that it is a religious issue for me, but it is not religious. The only time I would swear allegiance is directly to the Bahamian people or to the God I serve; to the God I serve first and then to the Bahamian people. That is why I affirm my allegiance to her and not swear, I have always done that, and everybody knows that.”

Asked if he believes The Bahamas should abolish the monarchy, Wells said, “I have held that view since entering politics in 2009. We should have a president who is representative of the Bahamian people who comes from the people. We should be a republic.”

In 2012, then prime minister Perry Christie formed a constitutional commission, headed by former attorney general Sean McWeeney, which examined, among other issues, whether The Bahamas should “evolve from a constitutional monarchy into a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations”.

In its report, which was released in July 2013, the commission wrote, “The traditional argument for the evolution to republican status is that it is a natural step towards completing the ‘circle of independence’ and attaining full sovereignty, and that the retention of the British monarch is an historical anachronism, a hangover from the colonial era that formally ended in The Bahamas 40 years ago.”

It noted that removing the queen as head of state and transitioning to a republic would involve “considerable” financial, administrative, social and cultural costs for The Bahamas because royal insignia on government buildings would have to be removed and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and Royal Bahamas Police Force would have to undergo a rebranding.

The commission did not recommend removing the queen or her representative, the governor general, as head of state. Earlier this month, attorney general Carl Bethel said the Minnis administration does not plan to abolish the monarchy.

“There are far too many Bahamians who have an emotional attachment to that,” he said.

Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian

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