Govt Ministers have abstained from voting but not expelled – Datadin
Thirty votes have been accepted over the years in Guyana’s National Assembly as the majority and have been the deciding figure for numerous bills and motions being passed or shut down.
Therefore, to say that the vote in favour of the No-Confidence Motion against the Government by former AFC parliamentarian Charrandas Persaud did not help tip the scales to the majority is not in keeping with Guyana’s parliamentary trend.
This is according to Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin, who is representing Persaud at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in relation to the No-Confidence Motion against the APNU/AFC coalition Government which was passed on December 21, 2018, where Persaud’s vote was seen as what has been described as the “deciding factor”.
Datadin in his submissions to the CCJ on Friday said that the Opposition – People’s Progressive Party (PPP) – when it was in Government, in the 2011 National Elections, had secured 32 seats in the National Assembly and the APNU and AFC together had one more seat than the ruling party of the day.
This, he said, resulted in a number of motions and bills put forward by the Government side in the House being voted against and ultimately no progress for some years since together, the two opposition parties joined forces and voted them down.
The CCJ heard that eventually, the now Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, then brought a No-Confidence Motion against the PPP in 2014 but before that motion could have been debated, the then President, Donald Ramotar, had prorogued Parliament which eventually led to elections being called in a short time frame.
Datadin further explained that after the 2015 elections, the APNU/AFC coalition took office and had a one-seat majority in the National Assembly which they used to pass a number of motions and bills to date.
He pointed out that in some cases, the PPP had a majority on some of these bills since, in a few instances, Government Ministers themselves abstained from voting, adding that some of these very Ministers were also “dual citizens”.
Giving an example to the court, Datadin said that on July 30, 2018, several Government Ministers abstained from voting for duty-free concessions for two officials of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). He noted that despite the fact that they did not vote with their party, they were not removed from Parliament by the Government.
“Apparently, as much is being said about what transpires and yesterday (Thursday) there were some comments about the society that Guyana is…the truth is that before now several dual citizens have been in Parliament, participated in Parliament, continued. It was more honoured in its breach than in its observance. I am not saying that it is right your honour,” the lawyer said.
According to the attorney, 33 votes had been accepted as the majority when voting in the National Assembly for years by all parties in the House and, therefore, it still should be seen as such in the case of the validity of the No-Confidence Motion where Charrandas Persaud voted against the Government.
“We go on and on about where we would find a view about the interpretation of the Constitution. We have a Constitution that is fairly simple in what it says. It is unique.”
Crossing floor position
Meanwhile, attorney-at-law and President of the Guyana Bar Association, Kamal Ramkarran in his arguments pointed out that Guyana’s history in the National Assembly does entail the “crossing floor position”.
He explained that three members of three different parties had left their respective parties but were still sitting in those seats in the Parliament and continued to do so for a number of years.
“Two are now Ministers in this Government, Minister Raphael Trotman and Minister Khemraj Ramjattan. One is now dead, Mrs Shelia Holder, so both parties had a rare moment of bipartisanship and got together and put this recall legislation in process.
And to answer the question of any similar No-Confidence Motion ever brought? One was brought in 2014 by current Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. But before it could be debated, the President prorogued Parliament and six months later dissolved Parliament and called elections, one was brought but it was never heard,” the lawyer submitted.
According to Ramkarran, interestingly enough, at the time that the 2014 No-Confidence Motion was brought to the House, the combined Opposition (which is now Guyana’s Government) had 33 seats in Parliament.
He reiterated that given the historical background of Guyana, the case being tried in the Court has fundamental issues of democracy and rule of law intertwined with it.
“Those issues cannot be untied from the case, your honours…the suggestion by the Attorney General (AG) that the vote of a person against the votes desired by the other members of his list means that that vote is automatically nullified from the time he makes it or even from the time that he gets the idea. But this could not be so, that would mean that there is some sort of dictatorship of the list, we would not need the National Assembly, we could just have decisions by decree based on numbers in Parliament….”
He added that if the court were to take this this argument to its logical conclusion, then Parliament is a charade – that is – a dictatorship of the list. (Kristen Macklingam)