…National Assembly now estopped from revisiting motion – attorney
Outspoken political commentator and attorney Christopher Ram said according to the provisions in the Guyana Constitution, the Government’s resignation should be automatic or with immediate effect after the passage of a no-confidence motion.
In a letter to the editor on Wednesday, Ram explained that Article 106 (6) uses mandatory language and imposes a duty on the Cabinet, including the President, to resign if the Government is defeated on a no-confidence motion. He added that the resignation under Article 106 (6), brings to a halt their functions, including aiding and advising the President in the general direction and control of the Government, proposing legislation, reviewing of contracts over fifteen million dollars and the making of appointments.
“While the Constitution is silent on the specific date for the resignation under Article 106 (6), for the reason set out below, that resignation seems to be automatic, or intended to be with immediate effect. In any case, Article 232 (9) provides that the Interpretation and General Clauses Act (ICGA) shall apply for the purpose of interpreting the Constitution. Since no time is prescribed therefore, Section 39 of the ICGA provides that “where no time is prescribed within which anything shall be done, such thing shall be done with all convenient speed,” Ram noted.
Solidifying his argument, the attorney alluded to the similar situation in the United Kingdom Parliament when Conservative Party Leader Margaret Thatcher succeeded in a motion of no-confidence against Labour Party Government led by Prime Minister James Callaghan. The vote was 311:310.
Despite the UK not having a Constitution, its Parliament is considered supreme and Callaghan tendered his resignation to the Queen the day after the March 28, 1979 vote and asked her to dissolve Parliament “as soon as essential business can be cleared up”. Parliament was dissolved 10 days after the vote and elections held 36 days after the vote.
Further solidifying his argument, Ram noted that former Speaker of the House Ralph Ramkarran pointed out that the inclusion of paragraphs (6) and (7) in Article 106 was to insert in the Guyana Constitution, the convention inherited from the UK regarding no-confidence motions. Ramkarran was the Chairman of the Constitution Reform Commission that inserted the provisions hence he would be the most experienced to speak on the issue of its interpretation.
“It is hard to see what more could have been done by the CRC which could
convince the [A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change] APNU/AFC Government; that like the Callaghan Government, it fell the time the motion was passed. That is common sense and the resignation ought to have been a formality,” Ram said.
Turning to Article 106 (7) which states, “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.”
Explaining the key terms in the provision, Ram said “Government” is defined in the Constitution only to mean Government of Guyana but it is clear that the term must include the President who under Article 89 – Establishment of office of President of the Constitution is vested with several roles: Head of State, supreme executive authority and Commander-in-Chief of the country’s armed forces. The President also has a number of functions and powers including the appointment of Ministers and the allocation of portfolios; presiding over Cabinet meetings; appointing parliamentary secretaries and an Attorney General; exercising the Prerogative of Mercy; appointing Judges, including the Chancellor and the Chief Justice.
“The President’s functions are clearly diminished under Article 106 (6) but he still remains the head of Government, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. As a practical matter he can no longer perform some of the functions identified in the preceding paragraph while his tenure as President automatically comes to an end when the person elected President at the next election takes office,” he explained.
He further stated that the Ministers, after the President had resigned, would only be delegated as oversight personnel in their respective Ministries.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Basil Williams announced that on his advice, the Government has written to the Speaker requesting him to “reverse the passage of the No-confidence Motion”, a step which seems as absurd as the 34–32 majority arguments, according to Ram.
“It is unclear whether the Government is really serious about the validity of its claims or whether the real motive behind the challenge to the result of the Motion as announced by Speaker Scotland is all about holding on to power, or to use the words of Vice President Ramjattan, ‘to bring back [their] term’. What is certain is that the country’s embrace of democracy is once again being tested and that while this is being played out, the Venezuelan President would be looking on with interest while investors become increasingly nervous,” Ram noted.
Meanwhile, Attorney JT Kissoon of Kissoons and Kissoons Chambers on Wednesday said the National Assembly is the highest court in the land with its own procedures and system with the Speaker being likened to a Superior Judge of the land, the Clerk of the National Assembly to the Registrar of the Court.
“The proceedings of the No-confidence Motion has been debated and voted upon. The Speaker, the Superior Judge declared the Motion is carried on behalf of the Opposition and declared the Government has fallen, confirmed by the Prime Minister, a leader of Government’s business. The Clerk of Parliament being the Registrar confirmed the declaration of the Speaker, the Superior Judge and accordingly the Clerk (Registrar) of the National Assembly sent out the certified Order of the National Assembly to the various relevant sources, in this case the Opposition Leader, the Prime Minister and other relevant entities,” he noted.
“The National Assembly in my view is now functus officio and cannot revisit the Order made as it is now estopped from so doing.
No court of law can knock on the door and enter the National Assembly to regulate its functions and proceedings and therefore the order of the Speaker as confirmed by the Clerk cannot be altered. It appears only with the support of the Opposition can the proceedings be revisited,” Kissoon added.