Ministers now meeting as ‘plenary’ to conduct Govt business
– approve appointments of Boards and diplomats; legislation
Having been barred from meeting as a Cabinet owing to a recent ruling from acting Chief Justice (CJ) Roxane George, Government has found a way around this and is now using plenary sessions imbued with Cabinet powers to carry on Government business.
This was revealed when Minister of State Joseph Harmon held a ‘post plenary’ press conference at the Ministry of the Presidency on Friday. Harmon revealed that a plenary of Ministers have met as a collective to note contracts from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) and give its approval for various appointments.
The Minister revealed that the plenary approved diplomatic relations with San Marino, the appointment of a new Indian High Commissioner and a non-resident ambassador from Kuwait.
The plenary gave its consent for the reconstitution of the National Data Management Authority (NDMA), a Value Added Tax (VAT) Appeal tribunal and also approved the Customs and Trade Single Window System Bill 2019. This Bill, Harmon explained, will pave the way for improved processing of data, information and submission of documents electronically.
Harmon defended the meeting of the plenary, noting that such meetings were also held last year. The Minister was asked to explain under which law is a plenary of Ministers authorised to meet and ‘note’ contracts.
“The plenaries are an extended Cabinet with all the Ministers included. It is noted that there is in fact a judgement of the court that was made with respect to the Cabinet. That judgement was appealed. But we have not had a stay of the judgement, and as such, we have not held Cabinet meetings.”
“Ministerial plenaries are chaired by the President and include all the Ministers. It therefore has all the powers that a Cabinet has… the appointment of a Minister, sitting as a Minister appointed in a full meeting with the President has the full authority of the Government to perform his functions.”
Government fell to a no-confidence vote on December 21, 2018. Article 106 (6) of the Constitution of Guyana states: “The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.”
Meanwhile, 106 (7) goes on to state that, “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.”
Government took the matter to the High Court, but were joined by anti-corruption activist Christopher Ram sought relief under the Constitution, stating that Government was defeated with 33 votes against 32; that Government should resign if defeated on a confidence vote; that 18 days had passed, and Government gave no indication to resign nor has fixed a date for General and Regional Elections.
The anti-corruption advocate had also argued that Cabinet’s failure to resign with all convenient speed and to fix an elections date could lead to uncertainty and constitutional crisis if neither of those occur in keeping with the Constitution by March 21.
The Chief Justice had upheld both cases, ruling that the no-confidence vote was validly passed and that Cabinet should have resigned. However, Attorney General Basil Williams has filed an appeal claiming that the Chief Justice made an error in both of these rulings.
He is seeking an order setting aside both rulings and all consequential orders, adding that more submissions will be made upon receipt of the CJ’s written ruling. The appeal came at a time when local and international organisations have been calling for a speedy resolution to these legal matters.
President David Granger and the Government as a whole have said they aren’t going anywhere while these legal cases are pending. But as there was no stay of judgement, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has already warned that transactions approved by an illegal Cabinet run the risk of not being recognised.