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Time to reform method of appointing the Governor-General

As Her Excellency Dame Cécile La Grenade is in less than two months to celebrate 11 years of distinguished and dignified service as Governor-General of Grenada, one imagines at some point, though hopefully not soon, questions will start to be asked about potential successors to the esteemed Dame.

The office of Governor-General, the representative in this country of our head of state, His Majesty the King, is an office of great importance in the governance of our state. Though often incorrectly referred to as wholly ceremonial the Governor-General, as our country’s effective head of state in the King’s absence, possesses a number of important constitutional powers and duties.

The Governor-General possesses the power to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Supervisor of Elections, other officials, veto legislation and dissolve parliament for elections, among many other duties. While mostly dormant or carried out on ministerial advice, the Governor-General’s discretionary authority on these matters can become central and important in extraordinary circumstances.

These powers together with the Governor-General’s ceremonial and cultural role as a unifying symbol above politics make it imperative that the Governor-General’s office is filled by someone, like Dame Cécile, who is beyond reproach, untarnished and unbiased by political ties. Though the office has so far in our history largely succeeded in that regard, the current process as it stands in appointing the Governor-General has flaws which can undermine this, and is thus ripe for improvement.

Under Section 19 of the Grenada Constitution, the Governor-General is appointed by the King. The Grenada Monarchist League fully supports the continuation of this state of affairs and sees no reason to change the constitution in regards to the formal appointment process. The King is our head of state and is a neutral and nonpartisan arbiter, who stands as a guarantor of the office’s independence.

It stands to reason that he is to appoint his representative. What the League is critical of is the method by which the King is advised as to whom to appoint as Governor-General. Currently, the King is advised on the appointment of the Governor-General by the Prime Minister.  This is problematic for multiple reasons.

Firstly is the fact that giving the Prime Minister so much influence (though not total power, as the King can refuse the Prime Minister’s advice) in the appointment of the Governor-General can weaken the office’s role as constitutional arbiter and guardian. The Prime Minister having a large degree of influence in the appointment of his own superior, the person with the power to remove him from office or check his actions, is a problem.

It can give Prime Ministers the mistaken belief that they stand above the Governor-General, and that the Governor-General serves at their, not the King’s, pleasure. This creates a power imbalance, and weakens the systems of checks and balances extant in our constitution.

Secondly it can compromise the office’s political neutrality and unifying appeal. For instance in 1996 where then-Prime Minister Keith Mitchell advised the appointment of Sir Daniel Williams, a former NNP Member of Parliament and minister, as Governor-General.

Though Sir Daniel discharged the duties of the office with dignity, it is undoubtable that having a former minister and party member fill the office made it unduly party-political, weakening the opposition’s confidence in the office and it’s role, and gave the New National Party an undue advantage.

By the Grenada Monarchist League

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