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The Cabinet reshuffle

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Fri, Feb 17, 2012

The Cabinet reshuffle predicted by SEARCHLIGHT two weeks ago has occurred, albeit belatedly. Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves announced the reshuffle at a news conference on Monday this week, rearranging the portfolios of six of his ministers. The changes are to come into effect from next Monday, February 20.{{more}}

The reshuffle has been the subject of a great deal of speculation over the past fortnight, particularly when the widely-expected announcement was not forthcoming and the Prime Minister disarmingly brushed aside questions about it at an earlier media conference. Much of that speculation was based on unconfirmed reports, or rumours, that the reshuffle was being held up because one Minister was resisting his transfer and, given the precarious one-seat margin of the ULP administration, was virtually holding the Government to ransom.

These reports have not been officially confirmed, but in small societies like ours, rumours spread wildly, but it is also difficult to keep secrets. The politically mischievous had a field day, making open reference to one particular Minister who has courted public wrath on at least two occasions with controversial statements, in Parliament and on a public platform, which have been deeply embarrassing to the Prime Minister and his Government. In addition, there have been confirmed cases of misdeeds at very high administrative levels in his ministry, triggering off charges of corruption and subsequent cover-up.

The politics of all this aside, it is important that we do not get side tracked. A Cabinet reshuffle is not any revolutionary act, nor does it have to imply any wrong-doing or non-performance of ministerial duties. The Prime Minister has the sole right and responsibility, constitutionally, for choosing or re-arranging his Cabinet of Ministers. He may discuss it with his colleagues, but in the final analysis the decision is his.

Secondly, Cabinet reshuffles are not just about personalities. Often, a political leader may combine or switch portfolios to try and achieve greater efficiency or strategic objectives. The skill sets of persons in Ministerial offices vary greatly and sometimes particular skills are needed for specific tasks. These include Parliamentary and Permanent Secretaries. In the final analysis though, the Cabinet of Ministers ought to be a cohesive team with collective responsibility.

As part of this team, Ministers are expected to have to tackle different assignments or carry out varying roles. Just as in a cricket team, the captain sets the batting order, so too does the Cabinet team leader, the Prime Minister, who redeploys his human resource personnel to suit the demands of the time. At a professional level, a batsman is not expected to throw tantrums, if deployed in a batting position different from his usual place. Cabinet Ministers have no less an obligation to behave professionally. The business of the nation must be paramount, above all personal considerations.

Finally, this latest bit of political speculation has again brought to the forefront the issue of our political and constitutional arrangements. What is to stop any aggrieved ULP Parliamentarian, from not just resigning and triggering fresh elections, but actually crossing the floor, indicating to the Governor-General his/her support for the Opposition, and the establishment of a new government without a mandate from the people who elected him/her in the first place? After all, only quick pre-emptive action prevented that occurrence here in 1974!

It would be more than useful to recall that this scenario was one of the most thoroughly discussed ones during the great constitutional debate leading up to the referendum of November 2009. Sadly, the proposal to deal with floor-crossing was defeated along with the rest of the proposed constitutional changes. We are still vulnerable, politically and constitutionally. The debate and campaign for constitutional reform need to be pursued.

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