As the Territory embarks on the process of having a Constitutional Review, the courts may be asked to interpret a section of the constitution which relates to who can chair Cabinet meetings in the absence of the Governor.
urrently, the practice is that in the absence of the Governor, the Deputy Governor chairs Cabinet and in the absence of both the Governor and the Deputy Governor, through an instrument, a suitable Virgin Islander chairs Cabinet.
Premier and Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie said that under the constitution the governor has the right to give his authority to the person who is either Acting Governor or the Deputy Governor, depending on if he is still in the territory.
“But he did not give away being the Governor. He is still the Governor. If you meet the Governor on Anegada, and you meet the deputy governor (acting governor) on Tortola, how could you have two governors in the territory at the same time, it’s not possible. That is not the spirit that the Constitution was written in,” he said in the House of Assembly during the debate of the motion for Constitutional Review earlier this week.
He added, “that is why we need a constitutional review to be clear because there are those who are interpreting it right now to mean that whoever they put and give the authority to can chair Cabinet and no one can tell them otherwise and I have called for a judicial review on this because it cannot be clear.”
Premier Fahie said that it is not about power.
“…That in the absence of the governor there shall provide at any meeting of the Cabinet the Premier. It’s not that you want the power, is what’s written. Our challenge is not only to put what needs to be put in the Constitution, it is also to be able to overcome some of the willful ways of misinterpreting what is put in there and telling you there is nothing you can do about it; this is it. This is not right in the 21st century,” he stressed.
Premier Fahie said, “and it cannot stand and when you speak on these things, they say you are disrespectful and you want power. You don’t want anything, you want what the constitution says. You cannot be in the river and on the bank at the same time.”
He went on to argue that section 49 (1) of the constitution says that the Governor as so far as practicable attend and preside over meetings of the Cabinet. He said that it states in the absence of the governor, and not in the absence of his powers.
“It didn’t say in the absence of the acting governor, it says in absence of the Governor, there shall preside at any meeting of the cabinet, the Premier or in in his or absence the Deputy Premier. That tells me that by putting the Deputy Premier in, it was to be the Premier chairing and if the Premier is not in then the Deputy Premier chairs,” he argued.
Premier Fahie said the language used is shall and not may.
During the debate, Hon. Kye Rymer, Minister for Transport, Works and Utilities said that the governor should not be chairing Cabinet.
"For example at this stage in our political development, should the Governor continue to preside over Cabinet? On what basis would the Governor continue to do so. The Governor is not a voting member of Cabinet. Is our Premier who was elected by the people not capable enough of presiding over a meeting of his Cabinet Ministers?"
He said that under the chairmanship of the Premier, the Cabinet Secretary can provide Cabinet decisions to the office of the Governor.