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FOR THE RECORD: The power in Prime Minister

Ezra Alleyne

FOR THE RECORD: The power in Prime Minister

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I was disturbed by a small anonymous article appearing in last Tuesday’s DAILY?NATION. Captioned No Cabinet Reshuffle it read: “A Cabinet reshuffle is not on the cards. That is according to Government officials who said there was no indication to suggest Prime Minister Freundel Stuart would make any changes to his team. There has been some speculation there would be a reshuffle.”
I shook my head and thought: small foxes spoil the vine.
Forty-three of the most important words published during the entire week, they speak volumes about how some of us perceive the Office of Prime Minister.
Mark well, I am not interested in personality or who holds the office from time to time. Rather, I am concerned that the holder of the office itself is uniquely empowered to appoint, shuffle and reshuffle members of Cabinet, and it boggles the mind that anyone else can be accredited with the credibility to make such a statement.
Mind you, there has been no response as far as I know from the Prime Minister’s Office disavowing the authenticity of this “politically incorrect” utterance, and one is left to wonder. My point is that in a young democracy, it is dangerously unwise to remove the ancient landmarks.
Indeed, these foundation planks must be kept in good repair so that if and when the occasion arises the house may shake but never fall, for the man or woman at the centre must then hold things together, lest they fall apart!
As a person who dabbles in thinking about the practice of government and constitutions, I am deliberately interested in the office of the chief executives, whether it is that of the Prime Minister or the president in Washington.
The presidency represents a castration of the power of ancient kings, since his power is hemmed in with so many limitations that he has to co-opt the Senate in order to get many things done.
On the other hand, the office of Prime Minister represents an almost direct transfer of the ancient powers of the king, circumscribed only by the fact that the Prime Minister rules under law, whereas the king did not.
The prime minister is functionally more powerful than the president. I like that, because I am in favour of a powerful leader at the centre. William Yeats reminds us in his poem The Second Coming: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
At some of their darkest moments during World War II, the British, under severe threat of being overrun by Hitler, turned to Winston Churchill to be their prime minister.
A political maverick of sorts, but then clothed with the awesome power and aura of the office of prime minister, he was able to match the power of that office with his oratorical skill and to rally his countrymen and women to give their blood, sweat and tears, in their desperate fight for survival.
They survived. It was their finest hour!
Anyone else making that kind of speech would not have had the same impact. Fine inspirational words were given the patina of confident belief because the office of prime minister added the required gravitas.
For all kinds of reasons, not even the king could do it, for under our system it is the Prime Minister who is expected to have his hands on the steering wheel.
That is why Chalkdust’s calypso refrain “the new driver cannot drive” was and is such a powerful political statement.
In our system, the people may not totally follow Rihanna’s advice and expect the driver to “shut up”; but they certainly expect the driver to drive, and to be the only driver.
That is the awesome responsibility of being the leader. And so no one, save the Prime Minister, can with any credibility indicate when and if there will be a reshuffle.
It is, I think, fair to say that during the Prime Ministership of Lloyd Erskine Sandiford, all kinds of eggs were thrown at the office. Sir James Tudor at the time became concerned at the state of affairs and wrote about it in his column A Word In Season on March 3, 1994.
He said: “Why for example were Errol Barrow, Tom Adams and Bernard St John able to govern Barbados with such relative ease and Erskine Sandiford finds himself moving forward only by hotly contested inches?”
It was because Sir James understood the importance of ensuring that power remained strong at the centre that he wrote. I too, share that concern. Here is Sir James again: “We cannot hope for a decent constitutional system if we are not prepared to strengthen its foundations.”
The office of Prime Minister is central to our system of governance, and we must not permit any improper diminution of the power and aura of that office. The Press was right to carry the report, but one wonders if there is more in the mortar than the pestle . . . one wonders!