When the current Cabinet was sworn in 2015, President Anthony Carmona made an error of epic proportions. Instead of administering the oath to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley first, as would be expected under the Constitution, Carmona swore in Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi and Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon.
Carmona, a former judge, may have been attempting to be flashy, saving the best for last. But the error was obvious to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the law. If a Cabinet is to comprise, at the barest minimum, a prime minister and an attorney general, and if it is for the prime minister to appoint that attorney general, then a prime minister must be in office first before an attorney general can be appointed.
This blooper resulted in a spectre the likes of which this country had never seen. The swearing-in ceremony for the two ministers had to take place a second time, this time behind the closed doors of the Office of the President.
It turns out that event was not such a rarity after all.
The circumstances surrounding the botched appointment of Robert Le Hunte last Thursday as Minister of Public Utilities do not have to be fully explained for us to apportion blame.
That blame must fall squarely on the arms of the State that are involved in the vetting and appointment of ministers.
To varying degrees all of them must take some share of responsibility: President Carmona, Prime Minister Rowley, Attorney General Al-Rawi, the Office of the Solicitor General, and Le Hunte himself.
The President may have no choice but to act on the advice of the Prime Minister when it comes to Cabinet appointments, but surely no president can be forced to make an invalid move. Does the Office of the President not take legal advice on matters before it, particularly appointments? Was this not the very heart of the recent Privy Council ruling which found the President to be accountable when it comes to the exercise of his power to appoint to various boards? Does the Office of the President – which in theory has at its disposal all of the Silk in the land – have adequate and independent legal counsel? Was that office able to conduct checks in relation to this appointment, unfettered? And while Rowley has attributed the whole fiasco to a “communications glitch,” where did that glitch occur? Did the Office of the Prime Minister, as well, conduct checks? Did the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Chief State Solicitor? The biggest mystery here is how this could have happened in the wake of the Marlene Mc Donald affair. It was essential that this appointment not have any irregularities.
It is, however, to the credit of the Office of the Prime Minister that once the matter was discovered it was disclosed. For it seems there were no other institutions upon which the public could have counted on to pick up on the matter.
How could a corporate citizen like Le Hunte, who comes from a background where due diligence is par for the course, miss this matter? A communication glitch is one thing, but a failure to assess the situation on his own terms is another.
In both instances, the new appointee is placed in a terrible position.
Either he is a part of a system that cannot get the most basic tasks right, or he has not been thorough enough when it comes to the very first thing he had to do as a minister: raise his hand and take the oath.
We call for the State to implement a far more rigorous process of ministerial appointment, whether through formal means or protocols at the Office of the Prime Minister, to prevent a recurrence of this embarrassing episode for all concerned.