Majlis discussions yesterday on the structure of the new government have raised important Constitutional issues related to transition from one government to the other. These relate to re-structuring of government ministries and Majlis approval for cabinet ministers. How these issues are decided now could set precedents that would have future repercussions. Here are some of the issues:
- Structure of the Government: With each change of government is it possible or desirable to redesign the entire structure of the government including arrangements for providing 1000s of services? Will there be sufficient time to do this effectively? In the US, which has a presidential system, the government structure is essentially fixed and supervised by a 15-member cabinet. In India, a parliamentary democracy, it is true that the cabinet does not have a fixed number and ministries have varying structures. But the civil service structure is essentially fixed. So with a change of government an entire department may move from one ministry to another, but no re-structuring is done within the department. This makes transition a simple matter of changing the boss.
- Majlis approval for cabinet: In parliamentary democracies like India, a newly appointed cabinet must demonstrate it has the confidence of the Parliament. (In cases where the ruling party has a large majority an actual vote is not taken and it is assumed the government has the confidence of the Parliament.) In approving President Nasheed's cabinet in a 'block vote' collectively, People's Majlis acted in line with the practice in parliamentary democracies. This could set the precedent of seeking Majlis approval for cabinet (as opposed to individual members.)
- Majlis approval for individual ministers: In presidential systems such as in the US approval is obtained for individual cabinet members. Since Maldivians have voted for a presidential system in the referendum of August 2007, it is assumed that the Constitution stipulates a similar procedure for approval of cabinet ministers. However, the decision taken by the Majlis yesterday does not appear to be in line with this procedure.
Comments: Collective approval of the cabinet could be a dangerous precedent to set. Under the current Constitution it is possible to elect a President whose party does not have a majority in the Majlis. In such a case an opposition party (or parties) could create a deadlock by voting down the cabinet along party lines. In contrast to this when approval is sought for individual members of the cabinet as in the US, decisions are taken regarding the qualification of the person in question. If he is rejected a new candidate is nominated, and this process could go on (as we often see on TV) till a suitable candidate is found; so the system works without crisis. Perhaps this procedure is more suitable for the presidential system we adopted for the Maldives.