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The Patriotic Vine: Mitchell abandons finance and angers Peter

The Cabinet reshuffle announced on September 13, 2020, was presented as an exercise in managerial and political rationality, but was laden with omissions, intrigues, and short-sightedness. Strikingly, the reshuffle had no strategic development objectives for Grenada in the unique circumstances of the day.

As to be expected, corruption and incompetence were not given as justification for re-assignment in any instance, though these are live and bothersome issues surrounding the regime. Nevertheless, working with what was pronounced, one identifies three issues of interest to the public.

Firstly, and most significantly, Prime Minister Mitchell has abandoned the Finance portfolio in circumstances where the public revenues have slumped dramatically because of the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Mitchell is therefore no longer able to boast of surpluses nor is he able to spend to his heart’s content.

Curiously, at the time when his experience is needed most at the Ministry of Finance to rebuild Grenada’s fiscal position, he packs it in and turns it over to one lacking in relevant experience, ageing and with known health challenges.

This is an alarming development which is not motivated by a concern for Grenada, but smacks more of a personal escape route, to be generous. To be blunt, Mitchell has abandoned Grenada because the Treasury has weakened and instead of taking the pressure to rebuild or lead the re-building, he is saying, “count me out”! He is running before the crash!

Secondly, any argument that Mr. Bowen needs to acquire further experience on the road to leadership succession fails on the ground that he has served for many years as Deputy PM which ought to be sufficient to qualify him for the Office of PM. It should be a straight and simple political step, assuming he has the confidence of the majority in Parliament.

Essentially, it is for party members, not any member of Cabinet, to provide for a successor to the Prime Minister, first as Party Leader. Recall that one is invited to form a government by the Governor General based on the confidence of the majority in the Parliament that one enjoys following the General Elections (Constitution, s.58). Therefore, the source of leadership authority is not the Cabinet, but the Parliament. In other words, it is not a Cabinet/Office power, but a political power. Therefore, the Prime Minister has no power to make anyone Prime Minister, succeeding him.

On this logic it is a fallacy for the Prime Minister to say that he is addressing succession planning at Cabinet level via a reshuffle as he prepares to exit that Office. Consider, conclusively, that it is open to elected Members of the House of Representatives (not ministers) to cause the removal of the Prime Minister.

Un-elected Senators may serve as ministers in the Cabinet, but they can have no say in the matter, under the Constitution.

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Furthermore, a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in the Prime Minister takes place in the House of Representatives, not in the Cabinet room.

One footnote on this matter is worthy of attention. Beyond placating Bowen, it may well be a deliberate set-up to give him the Finance ministry with the expectation that he would have to impose unpopular austerity measures on the people and preside over hardship. In the event, he is likely to become very unpopular, a status which the party members could not ignore in choosing a new leader.

The point being made is that Mitchell may well be setting-up Bowen to fail because he wishes to see someone else become Party Leader and Prime Minister.

In the process, he escapes the chastisement of the people for the economic woes of the country. The move therefore portends serious internal conflict within the NNP over a successor for Party Leader. It also demonstrates that Peter David is not on Mitchell’s leadership succession list.

This brings us to the third point of note. In November, 2010, then Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas, reshuffled his Cabinet whereupon Chester Humphrey rushed to GBN to say that, “The Prime Minister must remember that the NDC was elected by a coalition of forces and taking Tourism from Peter David amounts to an attack on the progressive forces”.

For weeks thereafter, the so-called ‘progressive forces’ vilified PM Thomas and threateningly declared on radio that, “Tillman cyan move Peter”. Over the next several months, Peter and his ‘progressive forces’ retaliated by breaking the back of the Thomas regime and were promptly conscripted by the NNP.

Ten years later, Peter is effectively demoted by the Prime Minister and must now be an unhappy man, though he will keep smiling while attempting to ‘spin’ to disguise his pain.

The public eagerly awaits a pronouncement by Humphrey on the impact of Mitchell’s demotion of Peter David in the coming days. This time around, they are not in the position of powerful coalition partner, but that of inferior conscripts! And how will the ‘progressive forces’ respond, assuming they have not become a spent force? Retribution politics is truly a curse!

The overall situation leaves Grenada in a very unhappy state. No savings will result to the public purse and no improvement in Government’s performance will ensue from the reshuffle. The Cabinet will not be stronger and better.

The Prime Minister has retained certain portfolios, but he has abandoned leadership of Grenada. His obligation to serve the people has once again been subjugated to his personal interests and he is running blindly ‘in big, broad daylight’.

William Joseph

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