Caribbean wonders reasons for Govt approaching CCJ – UWI Political Science Head
CCJ no-confidence cases
…says Govt dodging of elections raises questions about its self-confidence
Even as the coalition Government fights for its survival in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), a Trinidad and Tobago (T&T)-based political analyst has opined that the Caribbean at large on a daily basis questions the reason Government even went to court in the first place.
This is according to Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of West Indies at its St Augustine campus in Trinidad. Dr Ragoonath was at the time making an appearance on a Globespan24x7 Town Hall panel discussion.
According to Dr Ragoonath, observers of the case in the Caribbean have been questioning the reasoning behind the Guyana Government going to the courts, ever since they first approached the High Court.
“For all intents and purposes, there was the feeling that ever since the matter went to the High Court, ‘why is this matter going to the High Court?’ Because as far as most of us were concerned, within the context of all our laws in the Caribbean, once you have faced a no-confidence vote and you have lost, it is anticipated that the Government will hand over or call elections within three months,” he said.
“So it is something that most of us, as political scientists and lay people in the Caribbean, would have (asked) why is Guyana going down this route. Why are they not going and call elections when they should? And why is the Government now challenging this thing when initially they accepted it?”
Indeed, on the very night of the no-confidence vote, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had accepted that Government must follow the Constitution and call elections in three months, in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana.
Article 106 (6) and (7) of the Constitution states, respectively: “The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.”
And “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
According to Dr Ragoonath, the Government’s about-turn has caused many in the Caribbean to question whether the Government is afraid of going to the polls and whether this fear stems from a lack of confidence in itself and its record.
“I think the eyes of the Caribbean looking at Guyana believe that if the Guyana Government felt so confident in themselves, they should have gone back to the polls and let the people give them another mandate to take the Government forward for the next five years. But there is that concern, that maybe they’re not as confident as they should be.”
But Dr Ragoonath noted that the big question was how far Government would be willing to go, if the court should return a ruling unfavourable to it. He noted that the way the case has been progressing and the way the CCJ Judges have reacted to the State lawyers’ submissions in the two days the cases were heard is very telling.
“While we cannot say what will be the verdict in this matter, the Judges did in fact ask some very telling questions, to the legal representatives of both the Government and the Opposition. For instance, they kept on asking the question of why did the courts in Guyana take so long knowing full well that there was a 90-day limit beyond the no-confidence motion, that the elections were to be held and the (Cabinet) should have resigned.”
“The fact that the Appeal Court in Guyana went beyond the three-month deadline to give their ruling, thus pushing the whole issue back. The issue being raised about whether or not if a verdict does go in favour of the Opposition against the Government, how soon can an election be held in Guyana,” the scholar said.
He made it clear that he was not surprised by the questions the Judges put to the Attorneys. According to Dr Ragoonath, having sat and observed events in Guyana and how they were playing out, it was merely a matter of determining the next step forward.
He also noted the fact that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has given the Government a November earliest date in which elections can be held. This is a date well outside the timeframe the Constitution of Guyana sets for holding elections.
“I think if we are to follow the questions, I think there were serious concerns that the CCJ would have had about how the Government but also the institutions acted… the Elections Commission and the Court of Appeal in how they operated in this matter,” he said.
The three no-confidence motion cases deal with Christopher Ram v the Attorney General of Guyana, the Leader of the Opposition and Joseph Harmon; Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo v the Attorney General of Guyana, Dr Barton Scotland and Joseph Harmon; and Charrandas Persaud v Compton Herbert Reid, Dr Barton Scotland, Bharrat Jagdeo and Joseph Harmon; the last of which deals with Persaud’s eligibility to vote in the House. The oral arguments concluded on Friday, with the whole nation awaiting a ruling.