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Without language, we cannot conceive, understand and communicate ideas and values. It is important that we get our language right. We often get our language and our thinking muddled and just plain wrong in constitutional matters.
Proper language and terminology communicate concepts and principles. In medicine and science, getting concepts and language wrong may be a matter of life and death. Getting the same wrong in constitutional matters may help to weaken the vitality of our parliamentary system within the body politic.
Since independence, the prime minister of The Bahamas has been frequently and incorrectly referred to in the media, by some commentators and even by various politicians, as the nation's chief executive. The constitution confers no such title on a prime minister.
Day after day the local media, mostly the broadcast media, glibly and inaccurately refer to the prime minister as "the nation's chief".
Much of this is due to our relatively recent and limited history of Cabinet government and as an independent country. With the cult of personality and strongman politics of Sir Lynden Pindling we inflated in our political consciousness the actual powers of a prime minister, whose power, in significant ways, is considerably less than those of a U.S. president. Sir Lynden was often called "chief".
Our proximity to the U.S. and ignorance about our constitution has resulted in a misunderstanding of our parliamentary system and Cabinet government and in the repeated regurgitation of factual errors.
We borrow promiscuously from the American political lexicon expressions which are quite misleading when we try to understand and discuss our own constitution which is vastly different from that of the U.S.
Enamored with the drama of the American presidential system, quite a number of Bahamians are more aware of American civics than we are of our own.
Often mesmerized by the U.S. media's reporting on the American government and the trappings of the U.S. presidency, we sometimes erroneously compare that system with parliamentary democracy absent a deeper appreciation of the origins, history, strengths and potential weaknesses of either system.
Some even don't understand the term republic. One radio talk show host, who is consistently factually wrong and a showman of little substance, recently wrote that he would prefer a republic rather than a parliamentary democracy. For someone who pretends to be intelligent and lays claim to constitutional scholarship, this view is the height of ignorance.
India, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Dominica and many other parliamentary democracies are also republics. We could become a republic and remain a parliamentary democracy. Further, the countries mentioned remain members of the Commonwealth, but not with the British monarch as head of state.
What the uninformed talk show host may have meant is that he prefers an American executive presidential form of government. But, given his ignorance about the various forms of republics, he likely little understands in any depth the nature of the America system of government.
A sign of this ignorance by some is the use of the term "checks and balances" when discussing government accountability. Often, just the term, "checks" is sufficient. But so used are we to aping the language of the American system, that we misapply their language to our system, even when superfluous.
In our system, the prime minister is the most important member of Cabinet and that is why we call him or her prime (or first), and he or she has important constitutional powers including certain powers of appointment.
Still, executive authority under our constitution is vested in the British monarch (Article 71) and is exercised by her representative the governor general. That is why no legislation by Parliament becomes law until it is signed by the governor general.
Further, the constitution gives responsibility for the general direction and control of the government to the Cabinet (Article 72), not the prime minister. That is what collective responsibility means.
In our system the prime minister is not, as President George W. Bush put it, "the decider". The Cabinet collectively are "the deciders".
When Prime Minister Perry Christie, who should know better, mused about the creation of a standard or coat of arms for the prime minister, he was seeking to compete with the monarch's representative.
He was evincing a curious ignorance and telegraphing a U.S.-style presidential mindset that is foreign to our parliamentary system and the concept of collective Cabinet government. Christie seemed to have forgotten that he is head of a government that is collectively responsible to the head of state, to Parliament and to the people.
Article 72 of our constitution provides that the Cabinet "shall have the general direction and control of the government of The Bahamas and shall be collectively responsible to Parliament".
This is very different from systems with an executive president, such as the United States. All important decisions of The Bahamas government must be made collectively by the Cabinet.
The American president individually enjoys extensive executive authority, authority that has grown dramatically since the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. The repeated assertion that The Bahamas' prime minister inherently has too much power is a red herring.
The U.S. president may engage in certain military actions without the need to get approval from his or her Cabinet or from the Congress, though the president would be wise to consult both. There continues a historic debate about presidential war powers.
In our system, the prime minister must get approval for military action from the Cabinet and for extended military action from Parliament. Recently in the British House of Commons, Prime Minister David Cameron's government got approval for airstrikes in Iraq but not in Syria.
The prime minister's chief responsibility is the coordination and discipline of the Cabinet, where he or she is primus inter pares (first among equals).
A prime minister is expected to provide leadership for his or her colleagues; is responsible for the agenda and conduct of the proceedings of the Cabinet as well as discipline; is responsible for the overall coordination of the government and is the chief spokesperson for the government.
The constitution also gives him or her the authority to make or advise certain appointments, including the appointment of ministers.
A minister, including the prime minister, may bring a paper to Cabinet proposing a certain course of action or policy or project or legislation. A minister may also in certain circumstances raise a matter orally at the table.
Cabinet debates the issue and comes to a conclusion, or conclusions, which is or are then binding on the relevant minister and all of his or her colleagues as well as other relevant agencies of the government.
Once a Cabinet conclusion is arrived at, neither the prime minister nor any other individual minister can legally overturn, reverse or vary such decision. However, the Cabinet can collectively revisit any previous conclusion.
Various prime ministers will be weaker or stronger in terms of leading or dominating a Cabinet. But a stronger Cabinet can restrain a prime minister, and he or she serves at the pleasure of a political party and Parliament and can be removed as leader and prime minister at any time. The same cannot happen in the U.S. system.
There are layers of checks on the powers of a prime minster. A failure to check prime ministerial power lies not in how our system is designed. It lies in his or her Cabinet, parliamentary and party colleagues, which the great Margaret Thatcher learned when she lost the support of her colleagues and subsequently resigned office.
Those who speak flippantly about term limits for a prime minister demonstrate a peculiar ignorance of our system. Such limits, in the words of attorney Andrew Allen, are a solution to a problem which does not exist.
We elect a party to office. There is no direct election of a prime minister. Again, he or she is not an elected chief executive. He or she is a part of Cabinet, in which general direction and control of the country is vested and which is collectively responsible. Should we have term limits on the tenure of service of a Cabinet or ministers minister? Of course, that would be patently absurd.
There are improvements which should and will in time be made to our system, such as how the Senate is constituted. But there is an historic and inherent genius to our parliamentary democracy and Cabinet government which we should seek to better understand and jealously guard.
o email@example.com, www.bahamapundit.com.
Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday defended the large size of his newly formed Cabinet, claiming the challenges confronting the nation warrant as many hands on deck as possible.
Government yesterday announced the final Cabinet appointments of 11 ministers, pushing the number of posts in Christie's Cabinet to 21 (16 ministers and five ministers of state). Three parliamentary secretaries have also been appointed.
"Under ordinary circumstances I would have selected a smaller Cabinet but the quite extraordinary and multi-faceted challenges facing our country today have compelled me to put together a Cabinet that will enable us to tackle these challenges simultaneously on as many different fronts as possible," the prime minister said after the 11 ministers were sworn in and took their oaths of office at Government House
He added that the size of his Cabinet is approximate to the one formed by former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham at the start of his term in 2007.
However, Ingraham's Cabinet was later reduced to 17 members. Those appointed to Cabinet yesterday include familiar faces like Fred Mitchell, appointed as minister of foreign affairs and immigration;
V. Alfred Gray, appointed as minister of agriculture, marine resources and local government; Shane Gibson, appointed as minister of labor and national insurance; Glenys Hanna-Martin, appointed as minister of transport and aviation and Melanie Griffin, appointed as minister of social services.
The list also includes newcomers to Cabinet: Dr. Michael Darville as minister for Grand Bahama; Dr. Perry Gomez, minister of health; Kenred Dorsett, minister of the environment and housing; Dr. Daniel Johnson, minister of youth, sports and culture; Hope Strachan, minister of state in the ministry of transport and aviation; and Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments in the Office of the Prime Minister.
Of note is the appointment of Darville, who will be the first minister to head the newly created ministry for Grand Bahama. After the ceremony, Darville said he will work to bring duty free concessions to West Grand Bahama, have open and frank discussions with the Grand Bahama Port Authority and find ways to revitalize the island's economy.
The creation of a specific ministry for the economically depressed island was something the Progressive Liberal Party promised to roll out within the first 100 days of its term.
MP-elect for Bamboo Town Renward Wells, MP-elect for South Beach Cleola Hamilton and MP-elect for Exuma Anthony Moss have been appointed as parliamentary secretaries. They will serve in the Ministries of Works and Urban Development; Foreign Affairs and Immigration and Agriculture and Marine Resources respectively. The trio will be sworn in at Government House on Monday.
Christie added that the Cabinet appointments were not a five-year deal and would be subject to change later in his term. He promised to provide leadership opportunities for his party's "new generation" when he shuffles his lineup later on.
"I fully intend to make mid-term ministerial adjustments with a view to bringing into the Cabinet some of our elected members of Parliament who have not been included in the first round," he said. "By the end of our term in office the new generation of political leaders will have risen to dominance in the Cabinet."
Dr. Kendal Major, MP-elect for Garden Hills, has been appointed as the next speaker of the House and MP-elect for Nassau Village Dion Smith will serve as his deputy.
Christie said MP-elect for Mount Moriah Arnold Forbes has asked to become chairman of the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation and an ambassador with a special focus on trade and job creation.
Over the next few days, Christie is expected to announce several other appointments to government boards and agencies.
Cabinet will have its first meeting Tuesday morning.
The Honorable Perry Christie newly elected Prime Minister of the Bahamas has announced the members of his new Cabinet. The Prime Minister seems to have done a good job of selecting an impressive team of Ministers. A review by the Council of Concerned Bahamians Abroad (CBA) finds that this new Cabinet and executive branch of government in the Bahamas is competitive with the best Cabinets in the English Speaking Caribbean region. This should give Concerned Bahamians domiciled abroad (CBAs) an early sense of relief and hope that the new government is starting out on the right foot in solving the Country’s numerous problems.
Minister of State for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez said yesterday that Cabinet will review suggestions made by Court of Appeal President Anita Allen urging the government to amend the law which outlines mandatory minimum sentences in certain cases.
"We will discuss it in Cabinet and give it our consideration. I can't anticipate what Cabinet will do or won't do," Gomez told The Nassau Guardian when asked if plans to amend the law were still on the government's agenda.
Gomez said he agrees with Allen's critique of the law.
"I've always taken the position [that] the mandatory minimum sentences were an attempt to encroach on the discretion of judicial institutions," he said.
"Her comments merely vindicate a position which I have held for many years.
"I think that one of our problems today has been that matters that are in the Magistrate's Court have ended elsewhere unnecessarily."
He added: "The other courts, which these matters have gone to have had to deal with matters which really ought not to be before them.
"I'm just one member of Cabinet, but my view may not be shared by others."
On Thursday, Allen indicated that many of the cases involving mandatory minimum sentences have been subject to appeals and have essentially wasted the court's time.
"Significantly, magisterial criminal appeals accounted for over 50 percent of the number of matters disposed of and well over 90 percent of those were appeals against the imposition of the mandatory minimum sentences for drug, firearm and ammunition possession," said Allen at a special sitting of the Court of Appeal to mark the new legal year.
"The sheer number of these appeals, however, places immense pressure on this court. Moreover, it is in my view an injudicious use of judicial time to have three senior justices doing what magistrates could have done if they had the discretion to impose the appropriate sentence in the first place."
Under legislation passed in 2011, people convicted of drug possession with intent to supply or illegal firearm possession face a fixed sentencing range of four to seven years.
Prior to the change in law, magistrates were able to sentence those convicted of such crimes based on their own discretion.
In May 2012, Minister of National Security Dr. Bernard Nottage said the government planned to review the mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
The Bahamas will be pursuing a Model I Intergovernmental Agreement under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), Guardian Business can confirm.
After a lengthy presentation last week, Cabinet approved the Ministry of Financial Services' recommendation to negotiate with the United States for The Bahamas to enter into a Model I Intergovernmental Agreement.
Ten years after stealing scenes in Sam Boodle's The Landlord, Ward Minnis and Anthony 'Skeebo' Roberts are returning to the
Dundas stage this weekend with twice the laughs in The Cabinet, a play that has been called the biggest comedy to hit the
stage so far for 2011.
"We just got back from Freeport with the play at the Regency," says Minnis, who in addition to playing one of the lead characters,
serves as director of the comedy which took him three years to write. "We weren't exactly planning on doing the play again
so soon in Nassau, but the last time we were at the Dundas, the role that Skeebo is playing was played by someone else. Skeebo
is just so awesome and beause he is who he is, he brings so much more to the character than you can anticipate so we ended
up editing and ad-libbing because of what he bought to the role.
Skeebo has been doing this [theatre] for about as long as
I've been alive so he contributes in more ways than even he knows."
Minnis admits to being in awe of Roberts during their first time on stage together and had no problem asking him for tips
when it came to learning the art of the stage. Now, he says, he he is humbled that Roberts actually agreed to be a part of
"It's amazing when someone you admire suddenly is taking direction from you and acting out what you wrote," says Minnis.
"Some actors arrive and then forget that this is a small but growing community and humility is key to success. Skeebo has
been all over the Caribbean, North America and the UK in films, commericals and on the stage. Yet he still has time to work
with little old me. When those we admire give us up-and-comers a chance it really motivates us."
Minnis added that he has also been motivated by several politicians and campaign workers who have seen the play who told him
that its great to sit back and laugh while seeing people they know indirectly potrayed in the characters.
"None of the parties or politicians are real in the play," laughs Minnis.
"However, if you see someone you voted for, voted
against, on the campaign trail or in the House of Parliament in one of our characters, it might be coincidental and in your
imagination. However, yes, we do draw inspiration from real life but we have to take it up a notch. But if it weren't for
the voters who are also members of our audience, we would not have been able to continue doing what we are doing or entertaining
requests to consider taking the play to other islands which is something we are optimistic about."
Tickets for The Cabinet are currently on sale at Galleria Cinemas. The play runs from June 24 to June 25.
Cabinet Office announced just moments ago that Prime Minister Perry Christie has advised the Governor-General to make the following cabinet appointments:
The Hon. Dr. Bernard J. Nottage - Minister of National Security & Govt Leader in the House of Assembly
The Hon. Obediah Wilchcombe - Minister of Tourism
The Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald - Minister of Education, Science & Technology
The Hon. Ryan Pinder - Minister of Financial Services
Senator the Hon. Allyson Maynard Gibson - Attorney General & Minister of Legal Affairs
Damian Gomez - Minister of State in the Ministry of Legal Affairs
The Hon. Michael Halkitis - Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance
Senator the Hon. Keith Bell - Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security
The statement further mentions that the appointments made were done so with 'critical bearing' on three of the most pressing issues currently facing The Bahamas: crime, the economy, and the need to re-vamp educational system.
The Cabinet Office staff on Monday, May 31, presented a cheque to the Bahamas Red Cross to assist with the rebuilding of Haiti following the January earthquake. Mrs. Anita Bernard, Secretary to the Cabinet made the presentation to Mrs. Carolyn Turnquest, Director General of the Bahamas Red Cross
>By ARTESIA DAVIS
Guardian Senior Reporter
A judge yesterday sentenced Ellison Smith to life in prison for the murder of Free National Movement(FNM) Cabinet Minister Charles Virgill.
Smith, who denied his involvement in the murder during an interview with probation officer Lisa Bowleg, continued those denials yesterday, telling Senior Justice Jon Isaacs that he was innocent.
Virgill's murder occurred during a kidnapping and armed robbery. Smith had to be resentenced to comply with a recent Privy Council decision that found the mandatory death sentence unconstitutional.
Justice Isaacs told Smith that his crime was heinous and he deserved the most condign punishment ...