Nigel Hughes’ “34 is majority” claim “dangerous” – Ram
…GTUC urges political maturity
Outspoken political commentator and Attorney Christopher Ram said his fellow legal colleague Nigel Hughes’ contention that the political Opposition needed a 34-seat majority to have the motion of no-confidence against the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Government passed is “perplexing, illogical and frankly, dangerous.”
After AFC parliamentarian Charrandas Persaud voted in favour of the motion on December 21, 2018, thus ensuring its successful passage, there have been a number of conspiracy theories ranging from allegations of bribe to the motion being null and void. Notable among the theories was that of former AFC Chairman Hughes,who is the husband of Government Minister Cathy Hughes, posited that a total of 34 of the 65 members in the National Assembly needed to vote in favour of the motion to ensure its successful passage.
Article 106 (6) of the Constitution states, “The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members in the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.”
In response, Hughes posited that “Mathematically one half of the house is 32.5 members. There is no such thing as a half member so half of the house is 33 members. This is because you have to round up to identify half of the house. For a no-confidence motion to pass and be valid, the motion has to enjoy more votes than one-half of the full house, that is, 34 votes.”
“The house voted 33:32. Thirty-three is a rounding down of what constitutes half of the house. The motion consequently was not carried. But in classic Guyanese style we have embarrassed ourselves again,” he writes, while citing cases of similar nature as precedence for his position.
Ever since Hughes stated his position on the issue, Government has backtracked on the initial statements of following the prescribed articles in the Constitution and has now signalled intentions to move to the court as well as having the House Speaker, Dr Barton Scotland review the motion that was carried.
Following the public spectacle that has ensued since the passage of the motion, Ram said Article 106 (6) “brooks no ambiguity or misunderstanding and states emphatically” what the Government should do. He noted that there are rules of interpretation of all statutes, of which the Constitution sits at the pinnacle. One foundational rule states that “The only safe and correct way of construing statutes is to apply the plain meaning of the words.”
He noted that what Hughes is attempting to do was already addressed by then Chancellor Keith Massiah in 1987 in the Court of Appeal case of the Attorney General vs Mohammed Alli and Others. In that case, according to Ram, Massiah referred with approval to the words of an English case that “it is a strong thing to read into an Act of Parliament words which are not there, and in the absence of clear necessity it is a wrong thing to do.”
Ram reminded Hughes that he was once the Chairman a Constitutional Reform Committee hence he must know that “there are two instances in the Constitution – Article 160 (2) and Article 180 (1) – in which the word “half”, or its variant “one-half”, is used in relation to the number of elected members of the National Assembly.”
“These along with Article 106 (6) are all part of the Year 2000 amendments to the Constitution and Mr Hughes must not only presume but must know that the distinction was not accidental. It was intended. In fact, Mr Hughes was the Chairman of the AFC when it brought a no-confidence motion against the Ramotar Government in 2014. I know about the AFC’s calculation of the 33-32 because then party leader Khemraj Ramjattan discussed the matter with me extensively prior to the actual motion being brought,” Ram said.
The attorney challenged that Hughes may be attempting to “to frustrate what Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo referred to on the night of the vote as “democracy at work.”
“In so doing, Mr Hughes clothes his attempt in a way more elegant but probably more dangerous than his AFC party leader Raphael Trotman sought to do during the vote in the National Assembly when he encouraged Ms Volda Lawrence to ask for a “time out” in the middle of the vote. What Trotman (a former Speaker of the House), Ms Lawrence, the vulgar (Jermaine) Figueira, and others knew when Charrandas Persaud said “yes” was that the APNU/AFC had lost the vote. Such a result triggers the resignation by the Cabinet including the President, while the Government resigns after a (new) President is sworn in following elections mandated to be held within three months,” Ram said.
The political commentator said the AFC, of which both Trotman and Hughes are leaders, has not only been a disappointment rather it is a prime example of opportunistic polities. He alluded to the recently concluded November 12, 2018 Local Government Elections as the motion of no-confidence in the AFC since its performance was abysmal. Additionally, he noted that the party’s internal elections also exposed Trotman’s no-confidence in then leader Khemraj Ramjattan when he staged a secret and successful campaign to unseat him.
“Collectively, the leadership of the AFC has done considerable but hopefully not permanent injustice to the concept of a third force in Guyana’s politics. To restore any decency, the leadership of the AFC must now emphatically reaffirm its position that it accepts the vote on the No-confidence Motion as a done deal to prevent the discord and confusion engendered by the crusade of its former Chairman,” Ram noted.
He urged the Government to recoup advising that if they intend to move to the courts to challenge the House’s decision then “duplicity and dishonesty will triumph over democracy and decency” noting that Persaud would be hailed for exposing this with his yes vote.
Meanwhile, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) issued a call for the toning down of the rhetoric and for sobriety and wisdom to inform the discourse as to how the nation proceeds at this crucial juncture in its history. It noted that “Strict constitutional adherence must guide us as this time. So in the event election is not held within the stipulated three months period, following a no-confidence motion, the Constitution dictates a course of action.”
Additionally, the GTUC called for the other coalition partners to have a seat at the table when President David Granger, upon his return from Cuba, decides to meet with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo. They also said that other stakeholders in civic society inclusive of the trade union movement, the Private Sector, and religious representatives be invited to subsequent engagements on the way forward.