Home Top Stories “Let the Court decide on the way forward” – political analyst
Acting President in National Assembly
– PPP/C’s Chief Whip outlines precedent set by Samuel Hinds to Speaker
While there have been many views shared on whether Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo should or should not be allowed to be present in the National Assembly while acting as President, Political analyst Dr Henry Jeffery feels that the matter should be sanctioned by the court of law.
Jeffery, a former Government minister for nearly two decades, said that only a court could decide on the best way forward because both the Government and the Opposition may never come to a compromise in resolving the issue.
The parliamentary Opposition feels Nagamootoo’s continued presence in the National Assembly is in violation of the Constitution, while the Government side feels that it is a non-issue.
“My own feeling is that the separation of power would seem to suggest that they PM should not be in Parliament when he is also head of the executive,” Dr Jeffrey told Guyana Times on Monday while saying that despite this he also thinks the matter should be resolved.
“My take, outside of the formality of it being an issue of that we must maintain it, we have a difference of views on this matter and the court could resolve this,” he added.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo zeroed in on the matter during his contribution to the Budget debates. He cited Article 178 (4) of the Constitution, which states that any Minister performing the functions of the office of the President has to vacate his seat during that period.
“I believe the honourable Prime Minister is squatting in the House! It says, as part of our Constitution, during any period when the Minister is performing the functions of the office of the President, his or her seat in the National Assembly shall be regarded as vacant,” Jagdeo said.
But the political analyst said even if this is the case and the Prime Minister is in violation of the laws, then it would not affect the Government’s business. “…because if the PM could send someone else to the Chamber they will not lose by his vote in there,” Jeffrey noted.
Nagamootoo has rejected the Opposition’s contention saying that it is only if a minister is appointed to perform the functions of the president that the minister has to vacate his parliamentary seat while he is performing the functions of the president.
His comments were back by former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran who told the State media, “The article in the Constitution requires a minister, if appointed, to vacate his seat. It does not require the prime minister, if similarly appointed, to do so.”
Jeffrey therefore said, “doesn’t the executive control that Parliament? It is passing and assenting it…The law should be maintained but this could be sorted it out by the court.” The political analyst said it is on that note that both Government and the Opposition should seek to push the agenda of Constitutional Reform so that these matters could be better resolved.
In a letter sent to the Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Barton Scotland from Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira dated Sunday, December 9, 2018, it said that in the 8th, 9th and 10th Parliaments in accordance with Articles 96 (1) and 178 (1) and (4) of the Guyana Constitution when the then Prime Minister Samuel Archibald Hinds was carrying out “the functions of office of the President” who was overseas, he was not allowed to attend a sitting or a committee meeting of the National Assembly.
It was further noted that there are records to this effect in the archives of the Parliament Office. “Repeatedly the Minutes of the Sittings of the National Assembly reflected the absence on leave of the then Prime Minister Samuel Archibald Hinds who was carrying out the functions of the office of the President who was overseas,” Teixeira stated.
Mention was also made with regards to an official instrument being issued by the Office of the President which stated that the Prime Minister, or in some cases a minister, was carrying out the “functions of the office of the President” and this was copied to the Clerk of the National Assembly. “There was no deviation from this during the tenures of either Speaker Ralph Ramkarran or Speaker Raphael Trotman,” it added.
The Opposition called upon the Speaker to uphold the constitution as was done by his predecessors. “Failure to uphold the Constitution will expose the entire consideration of National Estimates for the 2019 Budget and any other matters before the House during this period to be infected by the germ of unconstitutionality and thereby making it liable to be set aside by a Court of competent jurisdiction, should there be a resort to such an option,” it added.