The buck begins and stops with Uncle Donald and not with Cabinet
All executive authority resides in one person, the President. Ministers do not have original executive authority. As assistants to the President, they merely carry out responsibilities delegated to them by the President.
This is one of the reasons why there is the principle of collective responsibility within Cabinet. When a decision is taken at that level, it binds all the members of the Cabinet. They may disagree with that decision but once they intend to remain within the government, they are obligated to suppress any public disagreement.
Ministers who leave the government and subsequently criticize the administration are often asked why they did not raise objections when they were in government. The main reason why they could not do so while they were with the government is because of the concept of collective responsibility. They were bound by the collective decision of the government.
Within the government, however, the buck begins and stops with the President. Executive authority does not reside in the Cabinet and as such the President is not compelled to go along with a decision of Cabinet even though in the spirit of democratic centralism, the President may defer to the wishes of his “assistants”, the Ministers within the government.
Ultimately, however, the buck stops at the President. He cannot excuse any decision of the Cabinet as not being his. In the presidency alone resides original executive authority.
The President therefore has to understand that he is the one to whom the nation looks towards to ensure that things are fixed. The ministers may end up being responsible for the actual fixing but the authority and instruction to fix is ultimately the responsibility of the President and the President alone.
As such, the President cannot be a “hands- off” President. He may not wish to place his brand on the presidency but he sure will be held accountable for his failure to assume responsibility, and it’s hard to see how he can assume responsibility without his own imprint being marked on the affairs of state.
This does not mean that the President has to micro-manage the country. This is perhaps one of the image problems facing the current President. For years the public has been accustomed to a certain style of presidency, one in which no detail was too small for the executive presidency, one in which there was believed to be a great deal of micromanagement and one in which the stamp of the presidency was to be found in even the most trivial of matters.
There was once the example of the president having to meet with music cart operators, something that in most other governments would have been handled by a lower- level ministerial functionary.
People have therefore grown accustomed to a ubiquitous presidency. And thus the style of the incumbent president is unsettling to those who have come to expect a president that is supposed to involve himself in as many matters as possible.
This is obviously not the style of Donald Ramotar. He seems to be someone who believes that effective government is one in which responsibility is delegated and where Ministers and bureaucrats are allowed greater freedom to undertake their work. This is a completely new style which heightens the importance of ministers and bureaucrats.
A great deal more can be done in this way but it is not a style of government to which the Guyanese have been accustomed over the past thirteen years. In fact, even Burnham once had his Prime Minister, Dr. Reid, being responsible for the work of his ministers. So that even Burnham saw the need to ensure that ministers were held accountable to his chief assistant, the Prime Minister.
But Burnham understood also the need, like Ramotar, to give his ministers greater scope.
It will take some time for Guyanese to become accustomed to the new style that Donald Ramotar has brought to the presidency. And he has brought a new style. So whether he wants it or not he has already rebranded the presidency.
Ministers now have greater scope in pursuing policies and programmes but there is a downside to this because where greater responsibility and authority is delegated, there is always the need to ensure that those to whom such authority is delegated or to whom greater responsibility entrusted must in turn be held accountable for their actions.
Where there are failings, as was recently the case with a minister in Trinidad, the chief executive must act with decisiveness in holding the minister accountable and fire that person.
Perhaps such a case has not yet presented itself but when it does, the President will have to choose between his loyalty to his Cabinet colleagues and the need to ensure that government is effective.
Certainly from the questions that the media posed to the President at his recent press conference, they consider him to be the chief executive and the person where the buck stops. They wanted to hear what he had to say because they consider him as the Chief Executive.
He has done well to hold that long awaited press conference and while some of his answers may have been too generous to his predecessor, the media is now gaining a better understanding of how the president is thinking.
Not all of his positions will bring applause; not much of it has excited the nation. But once the President understands that ultimately he stands responsible, then he should be given that opportunity to speak his mind and express his views on the things over which concern has been expressed.