As an ardent student of politics and constitutional studies, I have served all my working life in the public service of my native Antigua & Barbuda. Having been regularly overruled by many of my supervisors on the subject of this communication to you, I feel compelled to publicly urge those in authority to take the necessary action to decisively and clinically eradicate a cancerous practice of many senior public servants who, with impunity, persistently and arrogantly alter the decisions of the Cabinet of Antigua & Barbuda without any legal authority.
This disrespectful reckless and unconstitutional misbehaviour might well be floating dangerously close to serious criminality.
My personal opinion about this unacceptable form of indiscipline is buttressed primarily on the following tenets of the Constitution of Antigua & Barbuda and, if the practice is allowed to go unchecked, sometime in the future, this nation could find itself in an embarrassing constitutional dilemma of incalculable repercussions.
From my understanding of the Westminster model of the parliamentary system currently in practice here in Antigua & Barbuda, the Cabinet is the executive branch of the democratic tripod on which the official administrative machinery of state is grounded. The three main entities are: the legislature comprising both Houses of Parliament; the executive, or Cabinet, made up of the ministers of government; and the judiciary, comprising the law courts and legal machinery of state. Note these three pillars of state are creatures of the Constitution itself.
The constitutional authority vested in them is virtually insulated against extraneous interference, unless there is a collision with any section of the constitution. In a nutshell, Parliament makes and amends laws; Cabinet sets and executes policies through the public service; the judiciary guards and interprets the laws enacted by Parliament, generally ensuring that all provisions of the Constitution are strictly adhered to by everyone.
The first underpinning girder of my opinion is to be found in Section (2) of our Constitution, which distinctly promulgates:
CONSTITUTION IS SUPREME LAW
2. This Constitution is the supreme law of Antigua & Barbuda and, subject to the provisions of this Constitution, if any other law is inconsistent with this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the Inconsistency, be void.’
Now, to the geneses of my concern: Section (70) of the Constitution impenetrably fortifies my opinion on the matter:
‘70 (1) There shall be a Cabinet for Antigua and Barbuda, which shall have the general direction and control of the government and shall be collectively responsible therefor to Parliament.’
‘(2) The Cabinets shall consist of the prime minister and such number of other ministers (of whom one shall be the attorney-general), appointed in accordance with the provisions of section 69 of this Constitution as the prime minister may consider appropriate.’
Meticulous examination of this section reveals that collective responsibility of the entire Cabinet is constitutionally and exclusively to Parliament – no one else – certainly not a public officer who is specifically employed simply to execute the set policies and programmes sanctioned by the wider electorate of this country.
Further, my interpretation of Section (78), Subsections (1) and (2) are quite explicit and unambiguous: they constitutionally lay out in precise language the role of the permanent secretary within the ministry/department to which he/she is assigned:
’78 (1) Where any minister has been assigned responsibility for any department of government, he shall exercise direction and control over that department; and subject to such direction and control, the department shall be under the supervision of a Permanent Secretary whose office shall be a public office.
‘(2) For the purposes of this section:
(a) ‘Two or more government departments may be placed under the supervision of one permanent secretary; and
(b) ‘Two or more permanent secretaries may supervise any department of government assigned to a minister.’
Constitutionally, not even an individual member of Cabinet can unilaterally usurp or disrespect the decision of the full Cabinet without its approval or knowledge.
And so, as we recently observed Public Service Week, editor, and as a retired public servant, I caution all those who are now expected to execute the policies of the government of the day, please familiarise yourselves with the relevant guidelines, regulations and laws governing the administrative machinery of state.
Ignorance of the law is no protection against the violation of the law – indeed, no insulation against the repercussion of any such violation.