Good Government: Legislative Requirement and Practical Elements
In my previous article, I indicated that the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP) should be anchored in the tenets of good governance, which is referred to in the Grenada Constitution as good government. I also outlined the principles of good governance namely: accountability, transparency, predictability, and openness.
This article is intended to raise awareness on the legislative requirements and practical elements of good government as catered for in the Constitution.
The system of public administration in Grenada is that of a bureaucracy. The highest decision-making body, the Parliament has constitutional authority (section 38 of the Constitution) to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Grenada. In public administration, good government calls for the rule of law, transparent and accountable government processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public service, empowerment of the people, equity, and sustainability.
Institutions of government operating under a good government agenda, will conduct their affairs and manage public resources in a constitutional manner, free of abuse, corruption, and with due regard for the rule of law. The essential attributes of such a government would be transparency, responsibility, accountability, participation, and responsiveness to the needs of the people.
The Constitution binds the Parliament, the Cabinet, Ministers, and the Public Service as core entities within the State’s public administrative system. Before entering upon the duties of their office, members of Parliament, Cabinet and Ministers take and subscribe an oath of office; swearing or affirming to faithfully execute the office without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, and in the execution of the functions of that office, to honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution of Grenada.
This is a solemn vow requiring the officeholder to execute the powers and trusts reposed in that office in keeping with the Constitution.
The Constitution, the supreme law of the land, in the establishment of the state bureaucracy has vested significant powers in the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister advices the Governor-General of those from the Senators and Members of Parliament to be appointed as Ministers. He /She chooses from those so appointed to be part of the Cabinet of Ministers and assigns to the Ministers responsibility for any business of the government, including the administration of any Department of government.
Collectively, the Cabinet of Ministers is responsible to Parliament for advice given to the Governor-General and for all things done by or under the authority of any Minister in the execution of his/her office.
In accordance with Section 67 of the Constitution, the Minister shall exercise general direction and control over the department of government, and subject to such direction and control, every department of government shall be under the supervision of a public officer whose office is referred to as the office of a Permanent Secretary.
Whilst section 67 of the Constitution has tended to create controversy as to who exactly is in charge of the department of government or ministry; the Minister or the Permanent Secretary; it is clear that the Minister, who is first and foremost a politician, is the head of the department of the government or ministry.
As such, the Minister is expected to decide on the direction of, and priorities for the ministry or department. However, they are not expected to be involved in the day to day staff matters, such as appointments, transfers, promotions, pay and grade, discipline, and all other like issues. These fall under the purview of the Permanent Secretary. The Minister is the manager of the department of government and the Permanent Secretary the supervisor or administrator.
The Constitution thus created an administrative system consisting of a team. Under this system, the Minister is responsible for determining and promoting policy, defending policy decisions, and answering in the Parliament on both policy and operational matters. Since Minister in the Constitution means Minister in Cabinet, the policies should be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.
In making and approving policies, they can originate either at the ministerial or the cabinet level. With policies emanating from the ministry, the Minister will give due consideration to advice tendered by the Permanent Secretary and other officers within the public service. Those made at the Cabinet level may be with little or no input from the Permanent Secretary and technocrats in the ministry and transmitted via Cabinet conclusion to the Permanent Secretary for implementation.
Policy decisions are broad-based but often includes the making of laws for the peace, order, and good government of Grenada. Through the legislative process, Bills are considered, and laws enacted. Prior to being proposed in the Parliament the draft Bill receives the approval of Cabinet.
The Bill is often debated upon by Members of Parliament, and if necessary, amended before passage. Since Ministers in Cabinet are by and large the majority of Members of Parliament, little or no changes are made to the content of the Bill at this stage. In essence, the executive or Cabinet dictates the legislative agenda and the content and timing of Bills eventually passed into law.
In a good government framework, Ministers must account by virtue of section 59 of the Constitution to Cabinet and to the Parliament for ensuring that the departments for which they are responsible carry out their functions properly and effectively.
On occasion, a Minister may be required to account for the actions of a department when there are problems which affect the provision of services to the citizens, even when he or she had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the actions concerned.
Ministers accountability to Parliament should go beyond a ministerial statement and a report on the accomplishments of the department during the budget debate. Ministers should be made to account for the manner in which they exercise the powers, duties and functions entrusted to them. They must answer honestly and accurately about their portfolio responsibility, take appropriate corrective action to address problems within their department working in the best interest of the people they serve.
As society evolves and citizens demand more open government, Ministers should be mandated to hold community fora, meetings and make appearances on the electronic media accounting to their constituents for the confidence bestowed in them.
In my next article on the good government agenda as mandated by the Constitution I will explore the role of the Permanent Secretary within the Public Service. Knowledge is power, and experience is the greatest teacher.
Laurel Bain is a Grenadian-born former economist with the St. Kitts-based Eastern Caribbean Central Bank.