No doubt the coalition has now learnt the wisdom of the old adage, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ It was a private citizen, Compton Reid, who filed the first of three court actions challenging the validity of the no-confidence vote in Parliament on December 21 last year on the grounds that Charrandass Persaud, who had broken ranks with the government side, held dual citizenship and was therefore ineligible to sit in the National Assembly. In a ruling handed down on January 31 this year, subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal, Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire found that it was indeed unconstitutional for a person holding dual citizenship to be elected as a Member of Parliament. That notwithstanding, however, she found that Mr Persaud’s vote was still valid.
Both major parties, but particularly APNU+AFC, then found themselves in the awkward position of having to confront the fact that several of their sitting members held dual citizenship. Various private individuals had been drawing this to public attention over the years, but those who circulate in our political universe had ignored them, effectively thumbing their noses at the Constitution. Following the court rulings, however, the constitutional affront had to cease, and consequently, the government was obliged to release four of its most senior ministers, for which as far as anyone could see, there was no obvious substitute waiting in the wings.
The two most senior were Minister of State Joseph Harmon and Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge, followed by Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin and Minister of Public Service Rupert Roopnaraine. Last week, President David Granger named two new members of Cabinet as replacements, and reassigned four others.
In an address to the nation, he told the public that Dawn Hastings-Williams had been appointed Minister of State, Annette Ferguson was now Minister in the Ministry of Communities with responsibility for Housing, Simona Broomes would become the Minister with responsibility for Youth Affairs in the Ministry of the Presidency, and Valerie Adams-Yearwood was to assume responsibility for Rural Affairs as a Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture.
Of these, it is Ms Hastings-Williams, who appears on the face of it, to have received the only significant promotion of the four, although exactly what was to be included in her duties as Minister of State and whether these would envelop all those responsibilities previously assigned to Mr Harmon, was not enlarged on. She is not a very well-known figure as far as the electorate is concerned, despite the fact that she was moved as a Minister within the Ministry of Communities to the Ministry of the Presidency in September 2017. She was accorded the title of Minister of Public Affairs, although it was insisted that a new ministry had not been created by this, and that she would just be responsible for Public Affairs within the Ministry of the Presidency.
President Granger described the move as part of a process of “rebalancing the Ministry of the Presi-dency,” and it was announced that Ms Hastings-Williams would have responsibility for the National Endowment for Science and Technology programme, hinterland and rural relations, as well as oversight of sections of the ministry. Exactly what the latter meant in a context where Mr Harmon was head of the ministry, was not explained. Neither was it clear at the time why she appeared to have been given a function which prima facie, at least, belonged more properly with the Ministry of Communities. It gave the appearance, if nothing else, of administrative duplication. It was also communicated subsequently that she would be occasionally accompanying the Head of State on his travels, both local and overseas.
Low profile or not, however, at least it can be said that after exposure to the workings of the ministry for some 20 months, one must assume she has acquired a certain familiarity with its norms and functioning.
The case of Ms Simona Broomes, on the other hand, is of a different order. In the first place, she is one of the high-profile ministers, if not necessarily for the right reasons. She has had a chequered governmental career, first in the Ministry of Social Protection, and then when she was transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources. She is not noted for always acting with propriety, her last public incident involving an altercation with security guards at the Massy parking lot on the East Bank. She even earned herself an oblique reprimand from the Speaker of the House for bringing Parliament into disrepute.
So now she is moved to the Ministry of the Presidency being given responsibility for Youth. Since this does not appear on the face of it, at least, to represent an advance in career terms, there may be some justification for speculating whether the occasion was used to place her in a less exposed post, where her energies could be directed along fewer disconcerting paths.
Annette Ferguson was also fairly well known, having previously held the position of Junior Minister in the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. A shift to housing in the Ministry of Communities does not have the ring of a substantial change about it in terms of responsibilities, but she is replacing Ms Adams-Yearwood, who is now transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture.
As far as replacing the other ministers who have resigned are concerned, two newcomers are entering the Cabinet, the first, Mr Hemraj Rajkumar as Minister of Business, and the second, Ms Tabitha Sarabo-Halley as Minister of the Public Service. As we pointed out in our report last week, Mr Rajkumar, the Region Two representative in the National Assembly, comes from the AFC, while Ms Sarabo-Halley is from the WPA; neither is that well known at a national level. As we reported, however, what the appointments do is preserve the existing coalition balance in the government.
Our report also alluded to the fact that no mention had been made in the President’s address as to who would become Foreign Minister. Mr Harmon’s former post aside, this is easily the most critical appointment in the Cabinet at this time. In a leader last month on this same subject, this newspaper made reference to the “ever-deteriorating situation in Venezuela” and the case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. There is in addition, the oil and gas situation here, and the fact that Anadarko, which has concessions in the Roraima block, is to be taken over by one of the oil majors. This could mean that there might be renewed interest in drilling in our deepwater region, from which Venezuela forcibly drove an exploration vessel in 2013. If so, the situation would have to be monitored extremely carefully at the highest level.
There is no obvious candidate in Mr Granger’s constellation of ministers to succeed Mr Greenidge. Previously, when the Foreign Minister was out of the country, Mr Harmon acted for him. However, Mr Harmon too is now out of the Cabinet. We reported that we had contacted Presidency Communications Director Mark Archer about the Foreign Affairs appointment, and had been told that the President would address the matter in a subsequent announcement. He should not procrastinate for too long.
The duration of all of these appointments, of course, is contingent on the outcome of the case which will be heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice on May 9 and 10. If it dismisses the government submissions, then we will be in election mode, and the administration will have to seek the cooperation of the opposition to fix an election date. If it were to be that the court found for the government, then it would have till 2020 in office. In such circumstances, then President Granger might entertain more radical reshuffling.