Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Those of us who understand the parliamentary practice of the Westminster system of government knew that the fired Minister of Housing - Mr. Kenneth Russell - had signed his own political death warrant

The firing of Kenneth Russell

tribune242 editorial

"THE Cabinet Office announces that the Prime Minister has advised the Governor General that with immediate effect the Minister of Housing the Honourable Kenneth Russell has been relieved of all ministerial responsibilities arising out of conduct by Mr Russell inconsistent with his ministerial duties.

"Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has advised the Governor General to appoint the Hon Neko C Grant as Minister of Housing in addition to his responsibilities as Minister of Works and Transport."

The December 9th Cabinet announcement was terse and to the point. Kenneth Russell, member of parliament for Grand Bahamas' High Rock constituency from 1997 was no longer at the heart of government's decision making.

Mr Russell is obviously a popular FNM representative in his constituency -- winning over his PLP opposition in the 2002 election by 314 votes, and increasing his winning margin by 548 votes in the 2007 election. However, not only was he now out of the Cabinet, but with the reconfiguration of the boundaries, there was no longer a High Rock constituency for him to represent.

Mr Russell was upset that High Rock's name had been obliterated. He made his annoyance known publicly only to be chastised on the floor of the House by the Prime Minister.

On December 8, The Tribune reported that according to reliable sources Mr Russell planned to run in East Grand Bahama -- the name replacing High Rock -- on the FNM ticket despite the party's wishes. Apparently at a party meeting the night before Mr Russell had confirmed that he intended to run in the district, but to a Tribune reporter the next day, he refused to comment on reports that his decision was not supported by Mr Ingraham.

Those of us who understand the parliamentary practice of the Westminster system of government knew that Mr Russell had signed his own political death warrant. The Cabinet announcement, which came the next day, was only a formality.

"Two key interlinked features of Cabinet are collective responsibility and confidentiality," said a paper describing Cabinet protocol. "Members of Cabinet are collectively responsible for the decisions made by Cabinet. While disagreement may be aired within the confines of a Cabinet meeting, it is a convention that Cabinet decisions will be fully and publicly supported by all Ministers, despite any personal views held by individual Ministers. Ministers and any officials are expected to refrain from public comment on matters to be considered by Cabinet. The confidentiality of Cabinet proceedings supports the principle of collective responsibility, by promoting open and free discussion including the airing of dissenting views and compromise."

Their duties are outlined in a Cabinet Handbook.

"Fidelity to Cabinet is seen as critical to maintaining the position of a Minister of the Crown, as Quick and Garran remarked in 1901, 'if any member of the Cabinet seriously dissents from the opinion and policy approved by the majority of his colleagues it is his duty as a man of honour to resign'."

In 1984, after the Commission of Inquiry into drug peddling, Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie, then members of the Pindling Cabinet, made it known of their concern about what was revealed in the inquiry and the corruption in the PLP. So concerned were they that it was rumoured that they had planned to do the honourable thing and resign from Cabinet. Sir Lynden, hearing these rumours, out manoeuvred them and their marching orders were quickly hand delivered. They were both fired from the Cabinet with Mr Ingraham later being expelled from the party.

In Cabinet, the prime minister is described as primus inter pares -- first among equals. He is first because it is his duty to select members for the cabinet with whom he can work and who will support the government's policies. Only the prime minister can hire and fire his Cabinet. From time to time there are Cabinet reshuffles to make certain that the prime minister has around him persons on whom he can rely to carry out government's agenda.

Mr Ingraham is a decisive man. No one would expect him to have done less when confronted with a public show down from one of his Cabinet colleagues. One only has to look to England to understand how ruthless some Cabinet firings can be. Some of those fired over the years were very able men, who had the misfortune of becoming misfits on the Cabinet team.

In sharp contrast, we had the weak leadership of former PLP prime minister Perry Christie, some of whose cabinet ministers were like so many sputniks firing off in all directions. Several of them seemed to be a government unto themselves, each making his own decisions and out on his own mission.

In the end, this can be seen as one of several reasons for his party's defeat -- the chief had lost control of his Cabinet.

December 12, 2011

tribune242 editorial