In an effort to reverse the successful People’s Progressive Party (PPP) No-confidence Motion (NCM), as determined and reiterated by the National Assembly, the People’s National Congress (PNC)-led Government resorted to the courts, invoking a number of claims based on different constitutional “limbs”. For instance, they claimed that Article 106 (6) demanded a majority of the elected members of the National Assembly was needed but that this an implicit “absolute” majority of 34, which was not met.
Simultaneously, they moved that AFC’s Charrandas Persaud, who voted for the motion, was a “dual citizen” and as such his vote was vitiated by Article 155 (1) (a). That Article states, “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.” Persaud was a dual citizen of Canada and Guyana and would have sworn allegiance to that country.
The Chief Justice (CJ), sitting in the High Court, ruled that indeed dual citizens are not qualified to be members of the National Assembly but that because Persaud was unaware of his infirmity at the time he voted, his vote was valid through the operation of Article 165 (1). This states: “The Assembly may act…and the presence or participation of any person not entitled to be present or to participate in the proceedings of the Assembly, shall not invalidate those proceedings.”
She also ruled that 33 votes constituted the “majority” demanded by Article 106 (6) and thus, with Persaud’s vote, the NCM was validly passed and the President and Cabinet had to resign. The Government appealed the decision and the Court of Appeal (CA) agreed with the Chief Justice on the issue of dual citizenship as per Article 155 (1) (a) and the validity of Persaud’s vote by Article 165 (1). However, they overruled the CJ on the requirement for a majority being met and ruled that an “absolute” majority of 34 was needed but not met. The PPP then appealed this latter ruling. What was not overruled, however, was that a dual citizen, being aware of his status was disqualified from being a Member of Parliament.
We have taken the time to belabour the decisions of the Guyanese courts because of what we believe to be an outrageous position now taken by the PNC-led Government. On one hand, they gleefully welcomed the decision of the CA on the “majority” question and “unresigned” the President and Cabinet, which promptly met and announced that the National Assembly shall reconvene on April 11. But on the question of the disqualification of dual citizens as per Article 155 (1)(a) on which both the High and Appellate Courts concurred, the Government spokesman had this to say:
“The attorneys representing the State will advise the Government with respect to the situation with members of the Government that are dual citizens. So, in that regard I would say that this matter is still engaging the attention and Cabinet has not made a ruling on it. In that regard, it is contemplated that on April 11, 2019, when the National Assembly sits, that all of the members on the Government side will be there.”
What is there for “the attorneys representing the State” to advise on? That Ministers Carl Greenidge and Gaskin became British citizens as children? The High Court’s ruling that the act of applying or renewing the passport of a foreign Government constituted the necessary acknowledgement of “allegiance” to that country stands and as such they are barred, as well as Rupert Roopnaraine and Joseph Harmon, from sitting in the National Assembly. On the Opposition side there are three dual citizens – Gail Teixeira, Odinga Lumumba and Adrian Anamayah. The People’s Progressive Party has since indicated that these three will either not return to Parliament or will give up the foreign citizenship.
The Government cannot cherry pick which of the Appellate Courts’ rulings they will observe: if Cabinet was resuscitated by the latter’s “absolute” majority ruling then their dual citizen MP’s were disqualified by the ruling on this issue. The Govt invoked the dual citizen issue and they have been caught in a contradiction of their own artifice: they sawed off the limb they had jumped on.