By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
GOVERNMENT appointees who voted against an increase in value added tax to 12 percent should have resigned their positions rather than wait to be fired, retired parliamentary clerk Maurice Tynes says.
Mr Tynes, the chief adviser to House Speakers from 1993 to 2017, addressed the issue during the Progressive Liberal Party's module for aspiring candidates last week. He was contacted by The Tribune yesterday to elaborate on the issue.
"The budget bill is usually one that is fundamental for the government so the whip will be on that," he said. "The budget is the most fundamental legislation the government could come up with. If they can't support the government's budget, they ought to resign. The VAT increase is part of the budget. I thought once they had announced they couldn't support it, they would've offered their resignation."
Debate has persisted about whether Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis was right to fire Bain and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson as parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Golden Isles MP Vaughn Miller as parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Social Services and Pineridge MP Frederick McAlpine as chairman of the Hotel Corporation.
The men had breached Westminster protocols which demand that those who serve in a government post show loyalty to a government's priorities. No law requires such a person to resign or be fired, but it is widely held that conventions in the Westminster system be defied only rarely.
In their termination letters, Mr Robinson and Mr Miller were cited for breaching the Manual of Cabinet and Ministry Procedure.
Mr Tynes said a prime minister can be expected to exercise his or her discretion to applying the whip for matters not relating to a budget.
"Under the Westminster system, it is pretty much under the discretion of the prime minister if he is going to force anybody out for going against the policy of the government," he said. "The prime minister on some issues would take the whip off and tell his members they could vote their conscience. It's usually these big national issues they do it on. In Britain, it happened during the Brexit issue for example. They were allowed to vote their conscience. "It's not a hard and fast rule but the principle is if you are a member of the government, a Cabinet minister or parliamentary secretary, if you can't support the government's policy publicly then rather than go ahead and just talk about it, you resign."
The firings have sparked debate about how the Westminster system generally functions in the Bahamas. Former parliamentarian Pierre Dupuch, in a statement to the press yesterday, said Bahamian administrations rely on Westminster protocols only when convenient. In particular, he said the system of parliamentary secretaries does not function locally the way it does in the United Kingdom.
"Had (Westminster protocols) been relied on consistently over the years, many politicians would have either resigned or not run again," Mr Dupuch said. "It is true that parliamentary secretaries are obliged to vote with the government or offer their resignations. This is true under the Westminster system. But what is a parliamentary secretary and what role does he/she play in the government? In England, a parliamentary secretary acts almost as a deputy Cabinet minister. The position was created to help organise a huge ministry, involving thousands of people.
"In the Bahamas, the parliamentary secretary is essentially a hired hand used to guarantee votes for the government in the House of Assembly. Most parliamentary secretaries in the Bahamas do nothing other than collect extra money for the position. But they are important to the dictatorial way in which the Bahamian government has operated for many years," Mr Dupuch said.
"I remember in the early eighties, Sir Lynden Pindling appointed two parliamentary secretaries. At the time both Sir Kendal Isaacs and Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, along with the other members of the FNM in the House of Assembly, were vehemently opposed to it.
"We maintained then that it was only a manoeuvre to put almost dictatorial power into the hands of the prime minister. Over the years the respective prime ministers, both PLPs and FNMs, appear to have used this method of controlling parliamentarians. It has become a dictatorship."