State of the Union: Deficient ‘Westminster System’

Go Lean Commentary

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The issue of governance is very important to understanding the State of the Caribbean Union. In many countries, governance is just one of the factors that dictate success or failure for homeland’s societal engines. But in the Caribbean, it is “#1 … with a Bullet”. The government is normally the largest employer, largest educator, largest infrastructure builder and the only security option.

  • Good governance = Good societal progress
  • Poor governance = Failed-State

The most common form of governance in all of the Caribbean is the Westminster System. This is due to the many British legacies among the member-states (18 of 30 feature a British constitutional heritage, only Guyana has reformed). See details of Westminster here:

Title: Westminster System

The Westminster system is a parliamentary system of government modelled after that which developed in the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British parliament. The system is a series of procedures for operating a legislature. It is used, or was once used, in the national legislatures and subnational legislatures of most former British Empire colonies upon gaining responsible government,[1][2] beginning with the first of the Canadian provinces in 1848 and the six Australian colonies between 1855 and 1890.[3][4][5] However, some former colonies have since adopted either the presidential system (Nigeria for example) or a hybrid system (like South Africa) as their form of government.

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A Westminster system of government may include some of the following features:

  • sovereign or head of state who functions as the nominal or legal and constitutional holder of executive power, and holds numerous reserve powers, but whose daily duties mainly consist of performing ceremonial functions. Examples include Queen Elizabeth II, the governors-general in Commonwealth realms, or the presidents of many countries, and state or provincial governors in federal systems. Exceptions to this are Ireland and Israel, whose presidents are de jure and de facto ceremonial, and the latter possesses no reserve powers whatsoever.
  • head of government (or head of the executive), known as the prime minister (PM), premier, or first minister. While the head of state appoints the head of government, constitutional convention suggests that a majority of elected Members of Parliament must support the person appointed.[6] If more than half of elected parliamentarians belong to the same political party, then the parliamentary leader of that party typically is appointed.[6] An exception to this was Israel, in which direct prime-ministerial elections were made in 19961999 and 2001.
  • An executive branch led by the head of government usually made up of members of the legislature with the senior members of the executive in a cabinet adhering to the principle of cabinet collective responsibility; such members execute executive authority on behalf of the nominal or theoretical executive authority.
  • An independent, non-partisan civil service which advises on, and implements, decisions of those ministers. Civil servants hold permanent appointments and can expect merit-based selection processes and continuity of employment when governments change.[7]
  • parliamentary opposition (in a multi-party system) with an official Leader of the Opposition.
  • A legislature, often bicameral, with at least one elected house – although unicameral systems also exist; legislative members are usually elected by district in first-past-the-post elections (as opposed to country-wide proportional representation). Exceptions to this include New Zealand, which changed in 1993 to use mixed-member proportional representationIsrael, which has always used country wide proportional representation; and Australia, which uses preferential voting.
  • lower house of parliament with an ability to dismiss a government by “withholding (or blocking) Supply” (rejecting a budget), passing a motion of no confidence, or defeating a confidence motion. The Westminster system enables a government to be defeated or forced into a general election independently.
  • A parliament which can be dissolved and snap elections called at any time.
  • Parliamentary privilege, which allows the legislature to discuss any issue it deems relevant, without fear of consequences stemming from defamatory statements or records thereof
  • Minutes of meetings, often known as Hansard, including an ability for the legislature to strike discussion from these minutes
  • The ability of courts to address silence or ambiguity in the parliament’s statutory law through the development of common law. Another parallel system of legal principles also exists known as equity. Exceptions to this include India, Quebec in Canada, and Scotland in the UK amongst others which mix common law with other legal systems.

Most of the procedures of the Westminster system originated with the conventions, practices, and precedents of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which form a part of what is known as the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Unlike the uncodified British constitution, most countries that use the Westminster system have codified the system, at least in part, in a written constitution.

However, uncodified conventions, practices, and precedents continue to play a significant role in most countries, as many constitutions do not specify important elements of procedure: for example, some older constitutions using the Westminster system do not mention the existence of the cabinet or the prime minister, because these offices were taken for granted by the authors of these constitutions. Sometimes these conventions, reserve powers, and other influences collide in times of crisis and in such times the weaknesses of the unwritten aspects of the Westminster system, as well as the strengths of the Westminster system’s flexibility, are put to the test. As an illustrative example, in the Australian constitutional crises of 1975 the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on his own reserve-power authority and replaced him with opposition leader Malcolm Fraser.

The pattern of executive functions within a Westminster System is quite complex. In essence, the head of state, usually a monarch or president, is a ceremonial figurehead who is the theoretical, nominal or de jure source of executive power within the system. In practice, such a figure does not actively exercise executive powers, even though executive authority may be exercised in their name.

The head of government, usually called the Prime minister or Premier, will ideally have the support of a majority in the responsible house, and must in any case be able to ensure the existence of no absolute majority against the government. If the parliament passes a resolution of no confidence, or refuses to pass an important bill such as the budget, then the government must either resign so that a different government can be appointed or seek a parliamentary dissolution so that new general elections may be held in order to re-confirm or deny the government’s mandate.

Executive authority within a Westminster System is essentially exercised by the Cabinet, along with more junior ministers, although the head of government usually has the dominant role within the ministry. In the United Kingdom, the sovereign theoretically holds executive authority, even though the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Cabinet effectively implement executive powers. In a parliamentary republic like India, the President is the de jure executive, even though executive powers are essentially instituted by the Prime Minister of India and the Council of Ministers. In Israel, however, executive power is vested de jure and de facto in the cabinet, and the President of Israel is de jure and de facto a ceremonial figurehead.

As an example, the Prime Minister and Cabinet (as the de facto executive body in the system) generally must seek the permission of the head of state when carrying out executive functions. If, for instance the British Prime Minister wished to dissolve parliament in order for a general election to take place, the Prime Minister is constitutionally bound to request permission from the sovereign in order to attain such a wish. This power (along with others such as appointing ministers in the government, appointing diplomats, declaring war, and signing treaties, for example) is known as the Royal Prerogative, which in modern times is exercised by the sovereign solely on the advice of the Prime Minister. Since the British sovereign is a constitutional monarch, he or she abides by the advice of his or her ministers, except when executing reserve powers in times of crisis.

This custom also occurs in other Westminster Systems in the world, in consequence from the influence of British colonial rule. In Commonwealth realms such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the Prime Minister is obligated to seek permission from the Governor-General when implementing executive decisions, in a manner similar to the British practice. An analogous scenario also exists in Commonwealth republics, such as India or Trinidad and Tobago, where there is a President, though not in Israel or Japan, where the respective prime ministers have the full legal power to implement executive decisions, and presidential (in Israel) or imperial (in Japan) approval is not required.

The head of state will often hold meetings with the head of government and cabinet, as a means of keeping abreast of governmental policy and as a means of advising, consulting and warning ministers in their actions. Such a practice takes place in the United Kingdom and India. In the UK, the sovereign holds confidential weekly meetings with the Prime Minister to discuss governmental policy and to offer her opinions and advice on issues of the day. In India, the Prime Minister is constitutionally bound to hold regular sessions with the President, in a similar manner to the aforementioned British practice. In essence, the head of state, as the theoretical executive authority, “reigns but does not rule”. This phrase means that the head of state’s role in government is generally ceremonial and as a result does not directly institute executive powers. The reserve powers of the head of state are sufficient to ensure compliance with some of their wishes. However, the extent of such powers varies from one country to another and is often a matter of controversy.

Such an executive arrangement first emerged in the United Kingdom. Historically, the British sovereign held and directly exercised all executive authority. George I of Great Britain (reigned 1714 to 1727) was the first British monarch to delegate some executive powers to a Prime Minister and a cabinet of the ministers, largely because he was also the monarch of Hanover in Germany and did not speak English fluently. Over time, arrangement continued to exercise executive authority on the sovereign’s behalf. Such a concept was reinforced in The English Constitution (1876) by Walter Bagehot, who emphasised the “dignified” and “efficient” aspects of government. In this sense Bagehot was stating that the sovereign should be a focal point for the nation, while the PM and cabinet actually undertook executive decisions.

There are important rules and responsibilities associated with the “Role of the head of state”

Source: Retrieved July 14, 2017 from Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia:  

Westminster is good … sometimes, but Westminster is mostly bad!

Westminster does not allow for the needed responsiveness; it does not feature a direct election of the Head of Government by the general population; but rather, it includes electing Members of Parliament (MP) from individual districts, and then the MP’s elect their leader. The party leader with the majority in Parliament is appointed Prime Minister, Premier, First or Chief Minister – First Among Equals; see Appendix A. This means less accountability and responsiveness to the citizens not in the constituency of the MP that is selected as Prime Minister.

Under this Westminster scheme, since this Head of Government is NOT elected by the majority of population, this one can be susceptible to a minority group – his/her constituents – over the Greater Good. Plus, this Head of Government can also reign in more than one branch of government. This one is the leader of the party with the majority of seats in Parliament, so this means that he/she leads the legislature; he/she forms the Cabinet, so he leads the Executive Branch. This leader holds sway on the candidates for the party and the selections of the elected ministers to the Cabinet. Lastly, this one appoints the Judges, so he/she wields power over the judiciary as well. The ideal separation-of-powers between government branches is deficient, defective and thus embeds failure on the countries societal engines.

Absolute power …

It is the assessment for the movement behind the book Go Lean…Caribbean that Westminster is dysfunctional … for the accountability and responsiveness for administering the Caribbean homeland. As a result of the deficiencies of Westminster, many countries have evolved and reformed their governance; they have abandoned Westminster; see list in Appendix B.

On the other hand, it is the assessment of this movement that since the Westminster System allows the concentration of power to only one person, the Prime Minister, it is easier to reform and transform a country. There is only the need to reach (influence, lobby and persuade) that one person. It is therefore easier for change and empowerment to take place, but still we recommend the member-states of the Caribbean region reform, transform and conform … to a new standard of governance.

This subject of governing systems is analyzed in the book Go Lean…Caribbean. This book provides an assessment of the Caribbean today, drawing reference to its historic past. From the origins of colonialism, the region traversed the historic curves of social revolution and evolution. The Go Lean book – available to download for free – serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the technocratic Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU), for the elevation of Caribbean society – for all member-states. This CU/Go Lean roadmap endorses a system of better governance, with these 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion and create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to ensure public safety and protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines, including a true separation-of-powers between the member-states and CU federal agencies.

The book stresses that reforming and transforming the Caribbean societal engines must be a regional pursuit. This was an early motivation for the roadmap, as pronounced in the opening Declaration of Interdependence (Pages 12 – 13):

xi. Whereas all men are entitled to the benefits of good governance in a free society, “new guards” must be enacted to dissuade the emergence of incompetence, corruption, nepotism and cronyism at the peril of the people’s best interest. The Federation must guarantee the executions of a social contract between government and the governed.

xvi. Whereas security of our homeland is inextricably linked to prosperity of the homeland, the economic and security interest of the region needs to be aligned under the same governance. Since economic crimes … can imperil the functioning of the wheels of commerce for all the citizenry, the accedence of this Federation must equip the security apparatus with the tools and techniques for predictive and proactive interdictions.

xxiv. Whereas a free market economy can be induced and spurred for continuous progress, the Federation must install the controls to better manage aspects of the economy: jobs, inflation, savings rate, investments and other economic principles. Thereby attracting direct foreign investment because of the stability and vibrancy of our economy.

This commentary is 3 of 5 in an occasional series on the State of the Caribbean Union. Surely, a malfunctioning state of governance throughout the entire region must have some common traits. These have been assessed in the Go Lean book and the technocratic solutions provided there-in. The full entries of all the blog-commentaries in this series are as follows:

  1. State of the Caribbean Union – Lacking Hope and Change
  2. State of the Caribbean Union – Dysfunctional Spanish Caribbean
  3. State of the Caribbean Union – Deficient Westminster System
  4. State of the Caribbean Union – Unstable Volcano States
  5. State of the Caribbean Union – Self-Interest of Americana

As related in the first submission in this series, the young people in the region need the vision of “something better” or Hope and Change in order to be inspired to participate in the future of this homeland. We cannot have a future without these young people, so these solutions – strategies, tactics and implementations – are not optional.

Hope for the future! This is a consistent theme from the Go Lean movement. Consider these previous blog-commentaries: Understand the Market, Plan the … Stay Home! A Series on Why and How to Keep Our Youth Home State of French Caribbean State of the Caribbean Union State of Aruba and Dutch Caribbean’s Economy Chasing Youth Culture and Getting It Right

The Go Lean book provides 370-pages of turn-by-turn instructions on “how” to adopt new community ethos, plus the strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to execute so as to reboot, reform and transform the societal engines of Caribbean society. For one, the recommendation is to reform and transform Caribbean governance, to evolve from the dysfunctions of Westminster and adapt a more enlightened Strong Executive (Presidential) structure (Page 72).

See the contrast portrayed here in this related VIDEO:

VIDEO – Parliamentary vs. Presidential Democracy Explained –

Published on May 7, 2015 – The two main systems of democratic government, Presidential vs. Parliamentary, explained.
Free audiobook:…
Subscribe to The Daily Conversation:…

At one point, the US used a version of Westminster – during the bad old days of the United States of America under the Articles of Confederation (1781–1789) – but this country evolved … and now feature one of the most responsive and accountable forms on government on the planet. In addition to the US, there are many other countries – consider Appendix B – that have evolved; some have rebooted and some have adapted a hybrid system of Westminster and the Presidential system.

In the Caribbean, we can do better! We do not have to be America; we can be better!

There is an aspect of the Westminster System that is embedded in the Go Lean roadmap, where the separation-of-powers provision parallels to the “Reserve Powers” of Westminster. These “Reserve Powers” ensure compliance with the tenants of state constitutions and treaties. These powers allow the CU to serve as a deputized entity for member-state governance; consider the justice scenarios requiring Commissions of Inquiries.

Yes, it is possible to reform and transform the Caribbean member-states that employ the deficient Westminster System. We can do better; we can make our homeland a better place to live, work and play. 🙂

Download the free e-Book of Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

Sign the petition to lean-in for this roadmap for the Caribbean Union Trade Federation.


Appendix A – First Among Equals

The status of the Prime Minister has been described as primus inter pares: Latin for “first among equals.” This concept defines not only the prime minister’s relationship with Cabinet, but also, in a sense, his or her relationship with the public in our modern democratic society. Drawing on a wide variety of documents and artifacts, this site explores five main themes (see the menu at left) relating to Canada’s prime ministers. The site examines our leaders’ political careers as well as their private lives. It also sheds light on Canadians’ perceptions of our prime ministers.

From Macdonald to Harper, our political leaders are twenty-two individuals who have made a difference, shaping Canada’s identity, sometimes in profound ways.

Source: Retrieved July 15, 2017 from:


Appendix B – Countries That Abandoned Westminster

The Westminster system was adopted by a number of countries which subsequently evolved or reformed their system of government departing from the original model. In some cases, certain aspects of the Westminster system were retained or codified in their constitutions. For instance South Africa and Botswana, unlike Commonwealth realms or parliamentary republics such as India, have a combined head of state and head of government but the President remains responsible to the lower house of parliament; it elects the President at the beginning of a new Parliament, or when there is a vacancy in the office, or when the sitting President is defeated on a vote of confidence. If the Parliament cannot elect a new President within a short period of time (a week to a month) the lower house is dissolved and new elections are called.

  • The Union of South Africa between 1910 and 1961, and the Republic of South Africa between 1961 and 1984. The 1983 constitution abolished the Westminster system in South Africa.
  • Newfoundland gave up self-government in 1934 and reverted to direct rule from London. Use of the Westminster system resumed in 1949 when Newfoundlandbecame a province of Canada.
  • Rhodesia between 1965 and 1979, and Zimbabwe between 1980 and 1987. The 1987 constitution abolished the Westminster system.
  • Nigeria following the end of British colonial rule in 1960, which resulted in the appointment of a Governor-General and then a President, Nnamdi Azikiwe. The system ended with the military coup of 1966.
  • Ceylon between 1948 and 1972, and Sri Lanka from 1972 until 1978 when the constitution was remodelled into an Executive presidential system.
  • Burma following independence in 1948 until the 1962 military coup d’état.
  • Ghana between 1957 and 1960.
  • Tanganyika between 1961 and 1962.
  • Sierra Leone between 1961 and 1971.
  • Uganda between 1962 and 1963.
  • Kenya between 1963 and 1964.
  • Malawi between 1964 and 1966.
  • The Gambia between 1965 and 1970.
  • Guyana between 1966 and 1980.
  • Fiji between 1970 and 1987.
  • Japan between 1890 and 1947, under the Meiji Constitution the Diet of Japan was a bicameral legislature modelled after both the German Reichstag and the Westminster system.[11] Influence from the Westminster system remained in Japan’s Postwar Constitution.[12][13][14]

Source: Retrieved July 14, 2017 from:

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