In carefully-worded public announcement made jointly by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Infrastructure on July 17, 2023, the two departments stated: ‘The Chief Minister Alfred Cannan MHK has confirmed that he has asked Chris Thomas MHK to step down from his role as Minister for Infrastructure.’
The announcement went on to state –
The Chief Minister said: ‘It has become increasingly clear that the Department of Infrastructure, with its varying range of responsibilities, remains a difficult department to oversee and effectively lead and, as I have made clear previously, is in need of reform.
‘Whilst I am very grateful for the work that Chris Thomas has undertaken to review some areas of operations, there are many matters that now need to be refreshed and reconsidered to determine a clarity of direction that will ensure the effective delivery of services into the future.
‘It is now therefore my intention to assume (in the short term) ministerial responsibility for the department and initiate a more rapid reform process.
‘This will include consideration of the allocation of responsibility for services across government and the creation of different oversight mechanisms.’
I mentioned earlier that this was a carefully-worded announcement, because nowhere does the announcement state that the Chief Minister had ‘sacked’ Chris Thomas.
However, just about every media outlet and political journalist made the assumption that Alf Cannan had ‘sacked’ Chris Thomas.
I have to assume that this carefully worded announcement was because Alf got his fingers burnt by me only recently, when he announced that he had ‘sacked’ Rob Callister, only to find, after I pointed this out to him, that he doesn’t have the power to ‘sack’ ministers.
The Council of Ministers Act 1990 makes it clear that ministers shall be appointed from among the members of Tynwald by the governor, acting on the advice and with the concurrence of the Chief Minister.
The Act it goes on to state that a minister shall hold office during the pleasure of the governor, acting on the advice and with the concurrence of the Chief Minister.
For a minister to hold office as a minister, therefore, he first has to be appointed by the governor, the Chief Minister’s role in the appointment being only to give advice to the governor on the appointment and to concur with it.
It follows however, that the Chief Minister cannot ‘sack’ ministers, who can continue to hold office until (a) he no longer has the pleasure of the governor and (b) the Chief Minister no longer concurs with his appointment and (c) when this happens, the Governor has to sign an appropriate instrument relinquishing a minister’s appointment.
Put simply, it is the governor who hires ministers, and it is only the governor who can fire them.
It seems from the carefully worded announcement that what I’ve described will be happening behind the scenes.
Despite the legalities, the man on the Clapham Omnibus will believe that Alf Cannan ‘sacked’ Chris Thomas.
This letter was first published in the Isle of Man Examiner on July 25.
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