Ministerial responsibility Editorial
Stabroek News
April 8, 2004

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Guyana's first, short taste of ministerial administration ended abruptly in October 1953 when the UK Government accused the elected ministers of behaving irresponsibly. The UK proceeded to expel the six Guianese ministers and suspend the constitution to prevent a "dangerous crisis both in public order and in economic affairs."

Fifty years later, have we learnt anything more about ministerial responsibility?

The people of Guyana, like those in most Western democracies, want the Administration to adhere to the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. The people expect that once the Administration's publicly announced policies have been agreed and settled, all ministers would unanimously support those policies and ensure that, in practice, the conduct of their respective ministries would be consistent with the Administration's positions. Every minister is expected to support the Administra-tion's general policies or resign his portfolio.

The people also expect that, at the individual level, each minister will accept responsibility for the performance of his or her ministry. This means that each minister has an obligation to the National Assembly, if not to the entire nation, to account, and to be held accountable, for the actions and behaviour of his or her ministry.

If a minister, or a department within a ministry, performs in a manner so egregiously incompetent or corrupt that the Administration is likely to be brought into ridicule or contempt, he should accept responsibility and resign.

The doctrine of ministerial responsibility, therefore, not only binds the minister to the Administration's policies, but also binds the Administration to the minister's performance. In any circumstance, the minister must resign if his conduct undermines public confidence in his ability to hold high office with dignity and integrity. To hang on to office is a sign not of gallantry but merely of obstinacy at best, or unproven guilt at worst.

In the event of ministerial misconduct, the National Assembly has the power to force the Administration to resign by passing a resolution of 'no confidence' in its ability to govern. The Administration is also expected to resign if the National Assembly rejects a measure which is so vital to Government policy that it is considered a 'matter of confidence.' In Guyana's fiercely polarised political party system, however, no Opposition is ever likely to unseat an Administration by a parliamentary vote.

Evidence of gross mismanagement, maladministration or dereliction of duty, or any other behaviour which could have been avoided or prevented by prudent administration, should be grounds for questioning the ability of a minister to discharge his responsibility.

In recent years, this country has witnessed spates of destructive fires which might have been prevented by providing better equipment to, or management of, the Guyana Fire Service. At least two violent prison escapes could have been foreseen and forestalled by a better equipped and managed Guyana Prison Service. Complaints of extra-judicial killings, irregular issuance of firearms licences and other corruption in the Guyana Police Force, in addition to horrific criminal violence on the East Coast and fatal traffic accidents on the roads and highways, have become too numerous to recount. Anti-narcotics units, too, have been strangely unable to bring a single major narcotics 'kingpin' to justice while, as the UK and US law enforcement agencies have found, Guyana has increasingly become a significant source of narcotics-trafficking. Responsi-bility for every one of these underperforming sectors of public order and safety rests with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Even without Mr George Bacchus's awful disclosures last January, there must be very few Guyanese who can be satisfied with the performance of the Ministry of Home Affairs.