Constitution never spoke of absolute majority – former senior Judge
…says appellate ruling means dual citizens must now choose
A former senior Judge who had presided over several constitutional cases in Guyana on Tuesday said that the Constitution of Guyana did not contemplate having an “absolute” majority used to ensure the passage of a no-confidence motion – a word which he noted seems to have been interjected there by persons.
The former Judge expressed his scepticism for the mathematical formula submitted by the Government in cases arguing that the no-confidence motion was invalidly passed which was adopted by two Justices of the Appellate Court.
In the interview with Guyana Times, the former Judge noted that the Constitution speaks to all elected members or members present and voting, not “absolute” or “simple”. This is a view that Appeal Court Judge Rishi Persaud had supported in the 2-1 split decision and was earlier articulated by the acting Chief Justice in the High Court.
While Justice Persaud had dismissed the appeal and concurred with the ruling of the High Court, his two colleague appellate judges allowed the state’s appeal.
Both Justices Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Dawn Gregory opined that while 33 is the majority of the 65- member National Assembly, the successful passage of a no- confidence motion requires an “absolute majority” of 34, and not the “simple” majority of 33 that has been used to pass ordinary business in the House.
According to the appellate judges, half of the National Assembly would be 32.5 and since there is no half vote then that would be rounded up to 33, which is a “simple” majority of the House, and so in order to make it “absolute”, one more has to be added to bring about a 34 majority.
On the matter of dual citizenship, the former Judge noted that dual-citizen Members of Parliament no longer have the luxury of hiding behind blissful ignorance.
“I think everyone knows now that if you have dual citizenship, you can’t be an MP,” the former Judge said. “In light of the ruling of the (Appeal) court, can you now say that you don’t know that you’re not qualified?
“That may have been open for (former Alliance For Change MP) Charrandas Persaud to say. But is it open for anyone else to say now, that they don’t know? They have to make a choice.”
The former Judge noted that in case dual-citizen parliamentarians disregard the Appellate Court ruling and a vote is held, it will fall to Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland to validate or invalidate the proceedings, bearing in mind the ruling.
With Parliament expected to be reconvened at any moment after the ruling of the Appeal Court on Friday, persons have been questioning whether dual citizens will return to the chambers. When it comes to the Government; however, it is expected to be business as usual for the dual citizens.
When contacted by this publication on Monday, Opposition Chief Whip Amna Ally had stated that all Members of Parliament on the Government side would be turning out for the next sitting. She noted that there was nothing impeding them from attending.
“I don’t know that there is a court action filed against anyone from attending… so all parliamentarians will be attending Parliament,” Ally explained, when asked about the fate of the dual citizens on her side.
Already, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has made it known that it would not be attending sittings of the National Assembly, with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo announcing on Sunday that the Party would be sitting out sittings while the no- confidence cases still have to be settled.
According to Jagdeo in the announcement on his social media page, he wishes to “place on record that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) will not attend any sitting of the National Assembly”.
This, according to Jagdeo, will be in effect while the appeal in the no-confidence motion cases is pending at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Following the Appeal Court ruling that the no-confidence motion was not validly passed, the PPP had announced on Friday that it would move to the CCJ.
When it comes to dual citizens, the longstanding issue rose to the surface with the passage of the no-confidence motion last year. In February, Chief Justice Roxane George had ruled on the case filed by Compton Reid over the dual citizenship of former AFC MP Charrandas Persaud.
In the case it brought to the acting Chief Justice, Government had argued that Persaud’s dual citizenship status invalidated his vote in support of the no-confidence motion that brought the Government down.
According to the CJ, by swearing allegiance to another state, a dual citizen is not qualified to be elected to serve in the National Assembly. But Charrandas is not the only one. In the Opposition camp, Chief Whip Gail Teixeira (who has Canadian citizenship) has already indicated her willingness to renounce her citizenship.
In the case of the Government, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge (United Kingdom citizen) and Minister of State, Joseph Harmon (who has United States citizenship) have both failed to address if they would choose Parliament or dual citizenship when the time comes.
Article 155 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana states that “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who (a) is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.”