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FOR THE RECORD – PM can be no CEO!

Ezra Alleyne

FOR THE RECORD – PM can be no CEO!

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One of the side issues which arose out of the debate that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart needed to speak to the people was the defence, if one may call it that, of St Lucy Member of Parliament Denis Kellman, who threw out the suggestion that the role of the prime minister should be similar to that of the chief executive officer (CEO) of a company. 
My eyes rolled at this idea which I rejected out of hand since I regarded it as “demoting” the office.
In my view, a prime minister cannot merely be a CEO of any kind. His true role, if we are to correctly use the jargon of corporate law, has to be that of an executive chairman.
While any such demotion would have been the furthest thing from Mr Kellman’s mind, his statement may have betrayed a recognition that silence is not golden when the electorate has expressed an interest in hearing the leader.
But Kellman was not alone. Dr Tennyson Joseph, political scientist teaching at Cave Hill, wrote in this newspaper that Kellman echoed views expressed by Kenny Anthony shortly after he lost power in 2006.
According to Joseph: “Anthony suggested that given the challenges of running the state, he should have, on hindsight, opted not to hold a ministry but should have transformed the office of the prime minster into a CEO function, allowing him to oversee his team of ministers, while retaining full responsibility for the work of the government.”
I have not read the original statement by Anthony, but I do not agree with this notion of the prime minister being a CEO. For a start, the office of prime ministe,r however described, IS a ministry itself, so that no prime minister, I think, can ever not hold a ministry. The governor general appoints the prime minister as his first or “prime” minister.
But technical points aside, let us take some examples. The current issues with the Ministry of Health are the prime responsibility of the Prime Minister in the first, second and last place. His job as chairman of the Cabinet is to get the policy right, and to make sure it is properly and fairly executed by his delegate who is the Minister of Health.
That is why the prime minister alone can hire and fire, if things go wrong!
The shareholders of Barbados do not elect ministers, but they effectively elect their prime minister. If, for another example, an individual minister’s handling of his ministry incurs the wrath of the populace, it is the prime minister, whoever he/she may be, and whenever that occurs, who has the responsibility to put the wrongs right. That responsibility cannot be abdicated on the basis that he is merely the CEO.
To adopt such a designation would be to devalue the office of prime minister and to weaken the authority which a prime minister has, which enables him/her to retain office as such and to control the Cabinet.
In 1992, Sir Lloyd Erskine Sandiford made the point that the ministers were his assistants who helped him to carry out the policy of his Government. He may have been attacked for his views as literally expressed, but the core of his ideas are inconsistent with Kellman’s thesis.
When Sir Herbert Duffus said all roads led to Mr Barrow, he was not merely stating the obvious, but confirming the political reality that a prime minister, like a president, is ultimately, politically and constitutionally responsible for shaping and executing the solutions to the country’s problems.
Lord Blake once wrote: “The truth is that the powers of the prime minister have varied with the personality of the prime minister or with the particular circumstances of his tenure.”
This observation ought to be kept in mind when one is assessing the performance of any prime minister, but it is clear that any leader carries the ultimate responsibility for getting the job done; and what Joseph calls the “cultural expectations of the prime minister’s visibility” may have to be satisfied as part and parcel of the onerous duties attaching to this most powerful office.
But the serious point has to be made. Constitutionally and politically, the Prime Minister has been accorded ultimate power accompanied by ultimate responsibility.
He is therefore not likened to any CEO. He is chairman of the board.
Ezra Alleyne is an attorney-at-law and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly.