October 16, 2020

I am still the PM despite dissolution – Gonsalves

Although Parliament has been dissolved, the prime minister and other ministers continue to carry out their duties as prime minister and ministers respectively until the general elections have taken place.

Parliament was dissolved last Friday, October 9, following the announcement by the Prime Minister that general elections would be held on November 5.

“I understand some people are saying well election declare, Ralph shouldn’t come on [to the radio station] as Prime Minister. I never hear anything so foolish in all my life,” Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves commented while speaking on NBC radio’s “Morning Cup” program on Wednesday, citing the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines as his reference.

“I am still the Prime Minister for this term until I’m sworn in again as Prime Minister for a next term. Or if by some miracle is somebody else…,” he noted.

He relayed that persons don’t read the Constitution, or understand “our system of Government.”

Some persons were also of the opinion that the Governor General should take over during this period of dissolution.

“The Governor General has her role assigned in the Constitution and I have mine. I am still the Prime Minister despite the fact that Parliament has dissolved, until a new Prime Minister is sworn in,” Gonsalves reiterated.

“In the unlikely event that there’s somebody other than Ralph. Or the likely event Ralph is being sworn in for another term,” he added.

It is not the first time that the issue has been raised. In 2015, in the run up to general elections, representatives of the two main political parties locked horns on whether a Cabinet remains in place after the dissolution of Parliament.
Dr Linton Lewis, a lawyer and a candidate of the main opposition New Democratic Party in 2015, and Gonsalves, also a lawyer, disagreed on what the law was on the matter.

Gonsalves had informed that “while Parliament is dissolved, a Cabinet is still in place, ministers are still in place.”

Lewis had declared “That’s not the law” and advised the Prime Minister to read the Constitution.

The relevant section of the Constitution seems to be s51(8), which concerns when the office of any Minister should become vacant. It states “(a) if the holder of the office ceases to be a member of the House otherwise than by reason of the dissolution of Parliament.”

Additionally, “(b) in the case of the Prime Minister, if, when the House first meets after the dissolution of Parliament, he is not then a Representative;(c) in the case of any other Minister, if, when the House first meets after the dissolution of Parliament, he is not then a member of the House, or; (d) if, by virtue of section 29(4) of this Constitution, he is required to cease to perform his functions as a member of the House.

A legal expert commenting in 2015, told SEARCHLIGHT that his interpretation of the law is that “By virtue of section 51 of the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Prime Minister and the Ministers of the Government, though no longer members of the House of Parliament by reason of the dissolution of Parliament, still hold the office of Ministers of the Government.”