TCI News

TCI Cabinet Code restricts the voice of thousands of voters, seven parliamentarians barred from speaking

#Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands, Friday June 1, 2018 – A reported, political ‘faux-pas’ by the governor of the Turks and Caicos has exposed just how much the public is not allowed to know when it comes to what happens behind the closed doors of Cabinet meetings; even though 70 per cent of the Cabinet is directly representative of the People.

Divergent opinions, objections, points of views expressed and insights shared by the ten members – which include seven elected House of Assembly parliamentarians – are kept hidden by a Code of Conduct which bans personal perspectives on Cabinet agenda items being shared within the public domain.  

Section 8 of the Code states: “The principle of collective responsibility, save where it is explicitly set aside, applies to all Government Ministers. It requires that Ministers should be able to express their views frankly in the expectation that they can argue freely in private while maintaining collective responsibility in public when decisions have been reached. This in turn requires that the privacy of opinions expressed in Cabinet and Ministerial Committees, including in correspondence, should be maintained.”

While the PDM Chairman and likely others believe assurances of confidentiality are vital to the openness of Cabinet, there is a glaring issue which provokes thought about this Cabinet gag order.  Are elected members holding back on pivotal points in the House of Assembly, where representation is required?

The Electorate suspected this was the case in the Rufus Ewing-led administration. And the near 18-month old PDM Administration is facing similar criticisms.  

Douglas Parnell as leader of the People’s Democratic Movement on Thursday issued a media release calling for an apology from governor, His Excellency Dr. John Freeman.  Dr. Freeman is accused of having breached the Code of Conduct, as president of the Cabinet, when he told media about options available to the PDM Administration on fiscal management in the aftermath of the hurricanes of September 2017.

A Magnetic Media report on the comments made in April ignited a firestorm of controversy about who really controls the public purse strings.  The premier believed it opened the door to mischief, chiefly from the Opposition Progressive National Party.

Hon Sharlene Robinson, Premier and Minister of Finance, retaliated with a national address and stated, unequivocally that, the UK did indeed micro-manage the finances of the country.  Premier Robinson, in detail outlined other measures, established by the UK which hinder swifter spending.

All of this happened back in April.  Nearly two months later, it is unclear why the matter is again in the spotlight but the issue has exposed at least two sections of a Code of Conduct, which many never even knew existed.

Section 9 of the Code states: “The internal process through which a decision has been made, or the level of Committee by which it was taken should not be disclosed. Decisions reached by the Cabinet or by Ministerial Committees are binding on all members of the Government. They are, however, normally announced and explained as the decision of the Minister concerned”.

Sections 8 and 9 of the Code of Conduct, governing the behavior of Cabinet members explain that the public ought only know the final outcome of a matter discussed at Cabinet; that it was important to present a united front.

The revealed expectation of that Code raises serious questions about the constitutional obligation of a member of parliament to truly represent the people of their given district or constituency.  

If a Cabinet member is unable to speak his or her thoughts or misgivings about Cabinet decisions for fear of retribution or a breach of the Code of Conduct, then doesn’t that disenfranchise and render voiceless the voters who gave them the job, which qualified them for Cabinet?

It is debatable; certainly worthy of national conversation.

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