Have the Ministers vacated the office or not?

by Barrister Harun ur Rashid | November 13, 2013 9:45 pm

On November 12, all the 52 ministers of the Awami League-led grand alliance government handed over their resignation letters in full public view to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to pave the way for holding polls under “an all-party” administration and the rare occasion was televised by all the TV channels. . During that time, some state ministers were seen touching the feet of Sheikh Hasina seeking her blessings.

After receiving the resignation letters at a cabinet meeting, Sheikh Hasina told the ministers that she would form an all-party government by November 20 to hold a free, fair and credible election.

The Prime Minister reportedly thanked and expressed her gratitude to all of them for extending cooperation to her during the tenure of the government. She also asked her cabinet colleagues to immediately start campaigning for the parliamentary election.

Under the Constitution of Bangladesh as amended, the executive power of the state is vested in the Prime Minister only under Article 55(2) and the cabinet has been excluded. It is different from those in India and Britain where “the Prime Minister and the Cabinet” exercises executive power.

This means that the Prime Minister in Bangladesh is constitutionally the most powerful among all Prime Ministers of parliamentary form of governments in other countries. The cabinet under the constitution has been made only responsible to Parliament for their actions/inactions. But executive power eludes them.

Controversy on resignations:

Under Article 56 of the Constitution, the number of ministers (including State and Deputy ministers) are determined by the Prime Minister and are appointed by the President with the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is empowered to reshuffle the cabinet and other ministers at any time. The Prime Minister can fire any minister any time under the constitution. . It is a prerogative of the Prime Minister to reconstitute the cabinet at any time.

On Minister’s resignation, Article 58 (1) of the Constitution states that “the office of a Minister other than the Prime Minister shall become vacant– (a) if he resigns from office by placing his resignation in the hands of the Prime Minister for submission to the President”

Article 58 (4) states that that “if the Prime Minister resigns from or ceases to hold office each of the other Ministers shall be deemed to have resigned from office but shall, subject to the provisions of the chapter, continue to hold office until his successor has entered upon office.”

Article 58(4) makes it clear that if the Prime Minister resigns, he can hold upon the office until his successor has entered upon the office.

The controversy has arisen whether ministers can retain their office after submitting their resignations in the hands of the Prime Minister under Article 58 (1). It is because there is no provision in the constitution, unlike the case of the Prime Minister, that the Ministers can hold the office until their successors enter upon the office.

There have been two views among legal experts on the interpretation of Article 58(1), although it may be argued that the language of the Article is simple and easy to understand for all..

The Law Minister reportedly said that “If a minister hands over resignation letter to the prime minister for forwarding to the president, only then it will be considered as resignation. But none of the ministers did so.” This means the ministers still hold their posts and there is no bar for them to enjoying all facilities or discharging duties..

More confusion has been added when Information Minister reportedly contradicted Law Minister on whether the ministers followed the constitutional provisions in tendering resignation. The Information Minister said the constitution was followed to the letter in submitting the resignation letters, while Law Minister said none of the ministers turned in resignation letters following the constitution. The Food Minister also supported the position of the Information Minister.

While other legal experts reportedly said that the constitution leaves no scope for the PM to do anything about a minister’s resignation once it is submitted to the PM. That means that ministers cease to hold the offices.

Echoing the above view, BNP’s joint secretary general reportedly said “As per constitution, after submission of resignation letters they are no more ministers.” Addressing a press briefing at party’s Nayapaltan headquarters in the capital he said: “Take action against the ministers who use flags in their cars. If you do not do so it will prove that you are working as a private force of the government.”

Understandably in a statement, it is reported Jamaat-e-Islami acting secretary general also called on the government employees, particularly the secretaries not to work with the ministers who resigned.

Briefing newsmen after the meeting, it is reported Cabinet Secretary said, “The cabinet will not be dissolved. Rather it will be reconstituted with some new faces. The size of the reconstituted cabinet will be smaller than the present one.” The cabinet secretary said there is no provision for an all-party or multi-party or interim government in the Constitution. “We will form the cabinet as usual,” he added.

Such television event of resignation of Ministers is very rare in any country including Bangladesh. People are asking questions: Was the resignation in public necessary? Why was it done and televised? Who gains politically? It is difficult answer these questions and I leave it to readers to form their own views.

Many analysts that given the political turmoil and violence in the country, was it necessary to add a fuel to the heated political confrontation?

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