The Jamaican Constitution provides that the Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and any number of Ministers that the Prime Minister may deem appropriate, but not less than 11 Ministers, two of whom must be Senators. (Section 69 of the Constitution).
The Cabinet is the principal instrument of policy, is charged with the general direction and control of the Government of Jamaica and is collectively responsible to Parliament.
Cabinet is traditionally convened on a weekly basis, although it may meet as the circumstances dictate. It is a confidential, closed forum that enables Cabinet Ministers to collectively and frankly discuss and decide on matters of significant interest to the Government and the public; as well as to keep them informed about matters of public interest or controversy. Cabinet considers a range of issues concerning Government; particularly significant policy issues, strategic issues, controversial matters, public urgency concerns, proposals that affect the Government’s financial position, important financial commitments, legislation and regulations, as well as machinery of Government matters.
The Business of Cabinet
The business of Cabinet consists in the main of:
• Considering significant policy issues which engage the collective responsibility of the Government, and are of critical national importance;
• Resolving unresolved or conflicting policy positions among Ministries;
• Approving new programme initiatives or substantial changes to existing ones; and
• Approving major contracts, legislation and international agreements and conventions.
Other issues that are referred to Cabinet include: approval for publication of consultation documents, Green Papers; White Papers; responses to Select Committee Reports; appointments to Boards; notice of the tabling of annual reports; hosting of regional and international meetings; the adoption of negotiating stances for international meetings; and reports of international meetings where the subject matter affects more than one ministry.
Collective responsibility dictates that Cabinet Ministers are collectively responsible for the conduct of the Government.
All decisions are decisions of the whole government.
All discussions in Cabinet are confidential and Ministers are able to express views frankly in the expectation that they can argue freely in private until a decision has been reached.
It is essential that, subject to the guidelines on the disclosure of information set by Cabinet from time to time, and the Access to Information Act, Ministers take the necessary steps to ensure that they and their staff preserve the privacy of Cabinet business and protect the security of Government documents.
The Cabinet is supported by a Cabinet Committee system which, as in most Commonwealth countries, largely serves two main purposes: to relieve the burden on the Cabinet; and to provide a mechanism for more in-depth collective consideration of major policy issues and matters of significant public interest. Ideally, the Cabinet Committee system is ‘intended to be greater than simply the sum of its constituent parts’, as the system is designed to make available to Cabinet Ministers a specialized cadre of senior public officials who bring together wider knowledge, expertise and perspectives of varying Ministries, Departments and Agencies to increase the likelihood of better conclusions. The recommendations of all Cabinet Committees are then referred to Cabinet for final decision.