The Dictatorship of Cabinet
August 22, 2002
by Clyde Weatherhead
It is difficult to think in the head-spinning storm of bombastic statements coming from the politicians in their unending competition to be the party-in-power.
Well it must be confusing to ordinary folks who don't have a spare moment between the daily diet of statements after Cabinet, press conferences and public meetings by one or the other party. In the latest round of verbal garble, the UNC leadership has accused the PNM of creating a `dictatorship of Cabinet,' ruling by decree. Well, some other developments have caused me to reflect in the heat of these sweltering days on what exactly is the truth about this dictatorship. Somehow I recall the same accusation coming from the PNM about the UNC in power not too long ago.
Well, here are some of the things that I have wrestled with. Carlos John says his failure to follow the existing rules of the game established in law was OK. Why? He acted in 'good faith' and 'faithfully followed Cabinet decisions.' National Security Minister Chin Lee says that the PNM has brought in an anti-terrorism expert under the Ship rider Agreement (which was never approved by Parliament) and that kidnapping (a crime) is an act of terrorism ( a political issue). This was after Cabinet meeting. Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj keeps talking about Government accounting to `the people through Parliament' when parliament accounts to no one. Well, trying to make sense of (non)sense, where does all of this take us.
Cabinet (under the UNC) makes international treaties. Cabinet (under PNM) uses one of those treaties to import an expert in political action to fight crime. A government minister says once I do what Cabinet says everything is OK even if I break the law or bend the rules. What are they telling us? The UNC, Team Unity and PNM are all saying (by words and actions) that Cabinet is the highest authority in the land! Once Cabinet says so, is so. They are all satisfied that this body that they all aspire to occupy as the party-in-power usurps the sovereignty of the nation and acts as a power unto themselves.
If they were really dissatisfied why are they all silent on the need to have fundamental changes to the Constitution to ensure that the sovereignty is vested in the people and that the elected representatives are subject to the direction and control of the people, the real sovereign.
The Constitution at section 75 establishes Cabinet with the "general direction and control of the government" and "collectively responsible therefore to Parliament."
However, Parliament is not accountable to the people. So even if the Cabinet were really to account to Parliament that is the end of the line. The presence or absence of a sitting Parliament makes no difference. Cabinet carries on its merry ways. Parliament never approved the Ship Rider Agreement. Parliament never approved this country's participation in the Free Trade of the Americas. So when the PNM Cabinet dictatorship acts under these treaties and propose treaties they are also acting according to the UNC Cabinet dictatorship putting them in place.
When Cabinet acts by changing the Parliament-approved Budget, it later comes to Parliament (like a rubber stamp) to formally adjust the Budget with Variation of Appropriation legislation.
This was so under the UNC and is exactly what the PNM is doing now. It does not matter who is the party-in-power, the nature and real role of Cabinet remains.
The whole political process and institutions rob the people of sovereignty and puts it in the hands of the Cabinet, which exercises absolute power on behalf of the most powerful owners of finance from within and outside our borders.
We the little people, the real sovereign are made to sit and watch the contenders for that Cabinet dictatorial rule by decree carry on a campaign of calling each other names for acting in the manner that Cabinet can act - by decree and without accountability. It is time for the real sovereign to stand up and be counted.
We the people, must assert our rights as sovereign and bring the elected representatives under our control, exercise our sovereignty and begin to get involved directly in the making and implementing of decisions that determine the future of our society and affect our lives.
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