[Press Release] – With a stroke of his ministerial pen, the minister with responsibility for Infrastructure, Ports, Energy & Labour, in summarily revoking the appointment of all Members of the National Utilities Regulatory Commission, has done precisely what the framers of the Act so deliberately and carefully set out to prohibit.
As Senate President during the debate on the National Utilities Regulatory Commission Act, I listened most intently whilst then Minister, Dr. James Fletcher, outlined the purpose and intent of the Act. Among the highlights of that presentation was staggering of the terms of the Commission members – this to ensure continuity – and the insertion of section 25. That section spells out in detail, the conditions under which the “Minister” can terminate the appointment of Commissioners. One such condition is “misconduct”.
It is this head which Minister King has used to dismiss the Commission. And he cites as the misconduct the fact that the Commission renewed the Executive Director’s contract, something he had instructed them not to do. He had further wished for the appointment of an additional commissioner who would also inherit the position and duties of the CEO.
It is well accepted that no one is under a duty to obey an unlawful command, regardless of its origin. And Minister King’s directive to the Commission was anything if not unlawful. The minister’s authority is clearly and unambiguously stated in the Act and is largely limited to “policy directives.” For Hon King to have considered the ordering of the dismissal of the CEO, to be within his authority, goes beyond a simple misunderstanding of the Act and instead smacks of a dictatorial attitude which must never be tolerated.
In statute, “misconduct” has certain legal implications. Indeed, once invoked, an affected party has a right to be heard, whether in writing or orally. It is highly improper for a minister to invoke “misconduct” and then arrogate unto himself the role of both accuser and judge. This begs the question “why would Minister King – a former Prime Minister no less – with all of his experience, do such a thing?”
Government ministers are not laws unto themselves. They, like all other citizens, are subject to all of the laws. If the Minister wished for the authority for him to misdirect the Commission there is a process for this. He ought to have taken an amendment to Parliament and have the said amendment debated.
Our citizens have in recent times displayed a great tolerance for executive misbehaviour and it is hoped that this malaise has not infected the wrongly dismissed commissioners. If not for their own sakes, at least for the sake of the rule of law and the conduct of the executive branch, they must challenge these unlawful dismissals.