Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran has spoken out against the reluctance to move forward with a date for General and Regional Elections, joining many other groups and individuals who have criticised the Government following Chief Justice Roxane George’s ruling on the no-confidence vote.
In his weekly column Conversation Tree, the prominent attorney said the coalition Government need not issue a proclamation to dissolve the National Assembly and another proclamation for elections, just in case it succeeds in the Court of Appeal or the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
However, he believes that the announcement will force the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to begin serious preparation for the elections, explaining that if in considering a date for elections, Government does not see this shared approach as one that should be adopted.
“The end result is that March will come and go and the Government will be still in office without legal status and without elections having been held, or a date fixed, or the GECOM not having ceased to drag its feet. The Government has no way of resolving this self-imposed conundrum,” he added.
Ramkarran reasoned that if Government loses its appeals, as expected, it cannot lawfully remain in office and cannot lawfully preside over elections. “The Government would demonstrate wisdom by beginning to consider the formation of a national Government, as a potential way out of the conundrum, if the March deadline is exceeded without elections being held,” he opined.
The Chief Justice ruled that the N-confidence Motion was lawfully passed on December 21, 2018, in the National Assembly by a 33-32 vote, and that the vote of Charrandas Persaud was lawful, notwithstanding that as a dual citizen, he was unlawfully occupying his seat in the National Assembly.
Consequent upon those findings, the Chief Justice ruled that the Cabinet automatically resigned on the passing of the No-confidence Motion. The Chief Justice granted neither a stay of execution nor a conservatory order which would have preserved the status quo ante. Yet the Government announced that the status quo remained and Government business will be conducted as usual.
“This statement, disrespectful and defiant of the Chief Justice’s ruling, presumably means that the Cabinet will continue to meet and function and take decisions affecting the governance of Guyana, even though it is unlawful to do so. In effect, the Government’s functions must be limited to the implementation of existing decisions as no new ones can be made by the non-existent Cabinet,” he asserted.
Open defiance of lawful authority
The former House Speaker also interpreted this to mean that those Members of the National Assembly who hold dual citizenship will continue to occupy their seats even though the effect of the Chief Justice’s ruling in relation to Charrandas Persaud’s means that their membership is unlawful.
He said, “Such bold, brazen and open defiance of lawful authority, of the Constitution and of the rule of law by a Government, have never been seen in Guyana after the (Forbes) Burnham era, or in the Commonwealth Caribbean, or in any democratic country for that matter.”
Ramkarran feels the decisions of the Chief Justice have material consequences. The functions of the Government are necessarily limited because the Cabinet does not exist and no decisions can be made. Only decisions already made can be implemented by Ministers and Ministries.
This means that if President David Granger does not recognise caretaker status for the Government because such a status is not provided for in the Constitution, it needs to recognise that its functions are limited as a result of the decisions of the Chief Justice. “If the Government defies this consequence of the Chief Justice’s decision, it will be flaunting its disrespect for the Judiciary and the Constitution,” he argued.
Ramkarran has dubbed the decision of the Chief Justice as a historic development in Guyana’s democratic and judicial history. He said never in the history of Guyana as an Independent nation has the life and existence of a Government attracted the attention of the court. And if the consequences of the No-confidence Motion had been accepted, judicial intervention would not have been necessary.
“As it is, our Judiciary was tested as it never had been, and it stood tall. First, the speed with which the cases were heard and the decisions given, based on the Chief Justice’s recognition of their public importance, are a new dimension to the administration of justice in Guyana, pioneered mostly by the Chief Justice, despite the onerous work load that she carries,” he noted.