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Guyana Government Goes to Court over No-Confidence Vote Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire
The Guyana government is preparing itself to appeal yesterday’s ruling by Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire that the no-confidence motion against it, which was passed in the National Assembly on December 21 last year, is indeed “lawful and valid” and elections should be held by March.
In fact, the ruling coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) intends to challenge the ruling all the way to the country’s highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), if necessary.
After considering arguments she heard earlier this month in three cases related to the validity of the motion—which the government lost 33-32 when one of its backbenchers, Charrandass Persaud, voted with the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP)—Justice George-Wiltshire kept her word to deliver a judgment by monthend.
Among the arguments advanced by the government in challenging the vote, was that an absolute majority of 34—half of the number of members in the 65-member National Assembly, plus one—was needed for the motion to carry. The contention was that since half of 65 is 32.5 and there can be no half person, the number had to be rounded up to 33 and an absolutely majority would therefore have to be one more than that.
According to Attorney General Basil Williams, the failure to obtain 34 or more votes breached article 106 (6) of the Constitution and the Speaker could not therefore certify the motion as having been passed.
However, the Chief Justice did not accept that argument, saying that 33 constituted an absolute majority, and the President and Cabinet ought to have resigned immediately after the passage of the motion.
“This court cannot set aside or defy a ruling that was validly made,” she said.
“The no confidence motion is carried, the requisite majority is obtained by a vote of 33 to 32. The President and the Ministers can’t therefore remain in government beyond the three months within which elections are required to be held in accordance with Article 106 of Article 7, unless that time is enlarged by the National Assembly in accordance with the requirements of said Article 106,” she said, adding that the government should remain in office until elections are held and a new President sworn in.
Another one of the grounds for the challenge to the no-confidence vote was that Persaud has dual citizenship and was therefore not eligible to be a sitting member of the National Assembly.
Justice George-Wiltshire ruled that it is unconstitutional for Members of Parliament to have dual citizenship. Therefore, she said, Persaud, who has citizenship of Canada—where he travelled to the morning after the vote—is “not qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly by virtue of his own act and acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience and adherence to a foreign power…in contravention of the Constitution of Guyana”.
“Anyone who holds dual citizenship as envisaged by Article 155 and therefore falls into this category…should not and cannot be a Member of Parliament…While some may say that this does not permit the fullest participation of diaspora Guyanese in the political leadership of Guyana, this is not for this court to pronounce on. The Constitution is clear….Until it is amended to provide otherwise, the Constitutional provision must be adhered to,” the Chief Justice added. “Any change to reflect a different view may be undertaken by way of constitutional amendment if the public and their parliamentary representatives so inclined.”
However, she said Persaud’s dual citizenship did not invalidate the results of the vote.
In her judgement, Justice George-Wiltshire also said that although Persaud should have informed the Speaker of the House that he had decided to break ranks with the list of candidates from which he had been selected, he had not ceased being a parliamentarian.
Responding to the judgment in a brief statement last night, the David Granger-led administration said it had taken note of and respects the ruling, but does not intend to let the matter die here.
“Due process continues and the government will file an appeal in the Court of Appeal. The government continues to believe that the full adjudication of this issue is in the national interest,” it said.
“Until the matter is concluded at the highest court of appeal, the status quo remains and the business of government continues as usual. The government reassures the Guyanese people that it will continue to act in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana.”
The Guyana government is set to go to the High Court today to file a challenge against a no-confidence vote it lost last month.
The move has come on the heels of Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Barton Scotland saying yesterday that he would not reverse the ruling on the controversial December 21, 2018 motion – in which 33 MPs in the 65-seat National Assembly, including government backbencher Charandass Persaud, voted ‘yes’, allowing it to pass – and would instead allow the court to decide on the issue.
The Speaker delivered his decision at a sitting boycotted by the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
At a press conference hosted on the sidelines of the Parliamentary sitting, Prime Minister and leader of Government’s business in the House, Moses Nagamootoo said Dr Scotland’s decision opened the door for a judicial challenge. And Minister of State Joseph Harmon confirmed that the coalition Government would file the matter in the High Court today.
Nagamootoo described the Speaker’s decision as “mature, wise and elevated” and said the court’s ruling in the matter will set a precedent.
He said it would be up to the court to decide if the total number of votes required for a no-confidence motion to be carried is 34 or 33, among other considerations presented in several “strong” and “compelling” arguments presented to the Speaker.
The government is seeking a stay of the no-confidence motion on the grounds that 34 votes are needed to pass the motion, and that Persaud’s vote was invalid given his dual citizenship.
In deciding on passing a ruling on the matter to the courts, Dr Scotland said he had received advice, both solicited and unsolicited, from various jurisdictions, on the issue. And he said that while he had the power to reverse the no-confidence resolution, he believes issues related to its passage might be better addressed “outside of Parliament”.
While Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has called for the Government to resign, Prime Minister Nagamootoo insisted yesterday that Article 106 (7) of the Constitution stipulates that the Government remains in office until the new President is sworn-in after the elections are held.
He said the work of the Government continues, making reference to the passage of several critical bills in the National Assembly yesterday.
Meantime, Minister Harmon told reporters that President David Granger had instructed him to write Jagdeo requesting a meeting on January 9, 2019, at 11 a.m. at the Ministry of the Presidency. Government is awaiting a response from the Opposition Leader about matters he would like to be addressed at that meeting