By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
MEMBERS of the Progressive Liberal Party expressed doubt over claims by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis that he did not see or sign off on matters in a gazetted document that he dismissed as “fake news” over the weekend.
A draft notice of functions to be transferred from one minister to another is ordinarily sent to the prime minister for his “initials” before the official document is gazetted, PLP Chairman Fred Mitchell said yesterday.
“The prime minister instructs the secretary to the Cabinet (on such matters),” he added.
His comment came as he and former State Minister for Legal Affairs Damian Gomez were dubious about the prime minister’s claim that he did not see the document.
Dr Minnis’ Press Secretary Anthony Newbold said Tuesday the document, which reported the transfer of some functions from Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira to Dr Minnis, contained responsibilities for matters Cabinet did not authorise to be transferred.
Notwithstanding this explanation, it is the prime minister – not Cabinet –that has sole constitutional power to prescribe responsibilities and functions to ministers.
Mr Newbold suggested fault for the error lay with the Cabinet Office.
“The woman who works doing the gazette is meticulous,” Mr Gomez, a former PLP MP, said. “She would not print something that did not have the right initials and it would have had to be the prime minister’s initials because only he could hire or fire or assign functions.”
For his part, Mr Mitchell said: “This really begs the question of the authentication of government announcements and documents. The whole thing comes off as so 19th century. This whole thing would be comical if it were not so serious. The responsibility for portfolio allocations is the prime minister’s.”
Multiple officials in government, including Jack Thompson, permanent secretary to the Office of the Prime Minister, steered The Tribune toward the Cabinet Office yesterday when they were asked about the process by which such matters are gazetted.
“That’s a Cabinet function and not the Office of the Prime Minister,” Mr Thompson said. “I don’t deal with that.”
However, most top officials at Cabinet Office, including the permanent secretary and the Cabinet secretary, could not be reached before press time despite repeated attempts to contact them.
At one point, The Tribune was referred to a woman who began working in the office in September; the document in question was gazetted on August 22.
One official, when told there should be documents and records with signatures of all who signed off on what was gazetted, said such matters are “internal documents” not released to the public.
Mr Gomez noted that The Tribune would have been able to obtain such documents had the Freedom of Information Act’s (FOIA) provisions been in force.
“It is not a matter of national security and it has nothing to do with Cabinet deliberations so I don’t see why you wouldn’t be able to get those documents,” he said.
The Free National Movement, in opposition, repeatedly criticised the Christie administration’s slowness on matters related to the FOIA.
In a recent interview, Attorney General Carl Bethel could not say when all the provisions of the FOIA will come into force. He said the government is seeking consultation on the matter.