Expanding Cabinet: the key questions

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi recently announced plans to increase the size of the Cabinet.

In a story titled “P.M. plans to increase the size of Cabinet,” which was published in the November 21, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, Tuilaepa announced that the Government will amend the Constitution in the next Parliament sitting to increase the size of the Cabinet from the current 13 to 15 ministerial portfolios.

He said the Cabinet’s size had to be increased due to the increasing workload of the Government and made specific mention of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment [M.N.R.E.] and the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture [M.E.S.C.], which would be split into separate ministerial portfolios.

“A sensitive Government reacts to changes,” Tuilaepa said during his weekly media programme. “We cannot have a changing country and still keep the same laws. Laws must be amended to reflect major changes in Government from time to time.

“The goal is efficiency in the implementation of works in response to the needs of the country in terms of protecting lives.”

The plan by the Prime Minister to increase the size of the Cabinet wouldn’t be strange for a Government that uses the Westminster system. 

In democracies around the world governments increase the size of their cabinets for a variety of reasons. One of the main ones is the increasing responsibilities that come with governing the country, which Tuilaepa has highlighted as the reason why Samoa’s Constitution needs to be amended in order for that to happen.

Another reason is political patronage, which can be defined as the use of State resources to reward others for their political support, and would normally come into play during coalition government formation after a general election.

A political party that successfully returns the largest number of candidates after a general election, offers ministerial positions during negotiations with minor parties, in a bid to win their support to form a coalition government.

The Prime Minister says “increasing Government workload” is the rationale behind the proposal, and then adds that it can only happen if his Human Rights Protection Party [H.R.P.P.] is re-elected back to the Government in the 2021 General Election.

“That‘s if we come back,” Tuilaepa said. “There is another group who strongly believe they will be the ones to lead the Government. You’ve got to remember that with those things, it depends on God.”

But before Samoa goes down that path the country’s eligible voters and the public at large would welcome the Prime Minister and his Government providing answers to the following questions.

What would be the overall cost to public expenditure of expanding the Cabinet’s size by two ministerial portfolios through the recruitment of new staff, principal officers, assistant chief executive officers, chief executive officers, associate ministers and the minister?

Similarly is the country able to afford all costs associated with the creation of two new ministerial portfolios during an economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic which has single handedly dismantled Samoa’s tourism industry?

Was a review done on the effectiveness of the Government’s Associate Ministers in the current governance structure, to determine whether the performance of their associate ministerial responsibilities in critical portfolios such as the M.N.R.E. and the M.E.S.C. added value to the overall outcome of the Government’s service delivery track record?

And last but not the least is the expansion of the size of the Cabinet to 15 from the current 13 detrimental to the balance of power between the Executive and the Legislature where a large number of ministers on the floor of the Parliament at any one time of its proceedings increases the Prime Minister’s powers of patronage?

Ultimately, the proposed constitutional amendments as announced by Tuilaepa should be taken back to the people for consultation and dialogue.

We note the timing of the Cabinet expansion proposal’s announcement and wonder whether it was done deliberately to cajole the current lot of Opposition-aligned political parties to consider the H.R.P.P. as a coalition partner post-election.

For political parties to brush off the announcement as another banter by Samoa’s longest-serving Prime Minister is to do so at one’s peril, knowing the conversations that could take place behind-the-scenes between now and April.

But these are no ordinary times, juxtaposed against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic that has literally strangled our economy, and impacted thousands of lives in the community.

Announcements by current and future Governments of plans to amend Samoa’s Constitution for whatever purpose warrants a second look to ensure leaders have the people’s wellbeing as a matter of priority.

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