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CABINET RESHUFFLES

Published: 
Sunday, September 11, 2016

The announcement by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that he will be undertaking a Cabinet reshuffle after the 2016-2017 budget has caused many people to start speculating. There was a story in the Guardian last Wednesday that former Cabinet minister Marlene McDonald might be returning to the Cabinet notwithstanding the Integrity Commission investigations that are currently underway. That will attract controversy if implemented.

For Dr Rowley this will be his second Cabinet reshuffle over his first year in office. Indeed, it was the removal of McDonald from the Cabinet in March this year that led to a mini-reshuffle. This impending reshuffle comes on the heels of two divergent opinion polls on the performance of the Rowley administration after one year in office.

The Sunday Guardian poll concluded that respondents were very dissatisfied. The Express poll on Wednesday concluded that respondents narrowly approved the performance of the Government. Whichever way one wants to take it, the bottom line is that the Prime Minister has indicated that there will be a Cabinet reshuffle after the budget.

He is not entirely happy about the way his government has performed over its first year in office. One of the ways that ministerial performance has been addressed over the years by prime ministers is through a Cabinet reshuffle. Both Patrick Manning and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, just like their predecessors, engaged in Cabinet reshuffles or adjustments on a frequent basis during their respective terms of office as Prime Minister.

After his return to power on Christmas Eve 2001 following the famous 18-18 tied general election result, Patrick Manning was re-elected in October 2002 and adjusted his Cabinet in May 2003, November 2003, March 2004, May 2005, January 2006, September 2006 and again after the general election of November 2007 in April 2008 and May 2009.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar made adjustments to her Cabinet in May 2011, June 2011, June 2012, September 2012, April 2013, September 2013, April 2014, July 2014 and February 2015. Generally speaking, Cabinet reshuffles are related to ministerial performance. However, there are other circumstances that have led to Cabinet reshuffles over the years of our post-independence history.

Political crises, political opportunities, resignations, dismissals and alleged scandals can trigger Cabinet reshuffles. During the political crisis created by the Black Power uprising in 1970, the resignation of ANR Robinson from the Eric Williams Cabinet and the subsequent desire to ask Messrs Gerard Montano and John O’Halloran to resign from the Cabinet to change the face of the Government led to the constitution being amended to permit more senators to be appointed ministers. That gave Williams the breathing space that he needed at the time and in 1976, he had senatorial restrictions removed in the Republican Constitution. In 1973, he suffered the resignation of Karl Hudson-Phillips as attorney general which caused a reshuffle. In 1975, he had a major reshuffle when he complained about millstones around his neck.

ANR Robinson faced his own internal political crises in 1987 and 1988 when he asked the entire Cabinet to resign in November 1987 and then re-appointed everyone except John Humphrey. By March 1988, he had a major Cabinet reshuffle to dismiss Basdeo Panday, Kelvin Ramnath, and Trevor Sudama. Those dismissals eventually led to the birth of the UNC in 1989.

Patrick Manning faced his own political crisis in 1995 when he sought the removal of Occah Seapaul as speaker of the House of Representatives. That led to the resignation of her brother, Ralph Maraj, from the Cabinet which eventually led to his resignation as an MP which forced Manning’s hand to call an early general election which he lost. In 1995, in replacing Ralph Maraj as his Foreign minister, he had to act swiftly again after Knowlson Gift, Maraj’s replacement, resigned because of adverse publicity in the press about his personal finances after just ten days on the job.

Basdeo Panday had an opportunity to reshuffle following ANR Robinson’s resignation from the Cabinet in February 1997 to assume the presidency which subsequently led to two MPs being poached from the PNM and then given ministerial portfolios. He also faced his own internal political crisis when he dismissed three ministers in October 2001 over differences of opinion regarding allegations of corruption. Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ralph Maraj and Trevor Sudama were uncomfortable with Panday’s relationship with a local insurance company. This eventually led to an early general election which he lost by presidential discretion after an 18-18 tie.

Patrick Manning faced another internal crisis when he dismissed Keith Rowley from his Cabinet in April 2008 over differences regarding Udecott. Rowley remained a thorn in his side from the backbenches until Manning called a snap general election in May 2010.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar had her own internal crises in September 2012 (Section 34 controversy), April 2013 (Jack Warner resignation) and February 2015 (Anand Ramlogan resignation). Each of these events required a Cabinet reshuffle outside of her own annual performance appraisals in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

With another Cabinet reshuffle just over the horizon, it would be fair to say that Prime Minister Rowley will look for better performance from his ministers.

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