“No-confidence” motions are a staple of parliamentary democracies and it arises from the demand that the Executive retain a majority support in the House of Representatives/Assembly or Commons. Since the legitimacy of a democratic government depends on its popular support, the loss of this support – as articulated by the peoples’ representatives – removes that legitimacy. In Britain, there have been 23 motions of no confidence passed since 1945 and 27 in India since their independence of 1947. Guyana was educated to the nuances of this motion in 2014 when Moses Nagamootoo of the Alliance For Change (APNU) moved one to remove the Donald Ramotar People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government from office.
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 of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence”. In Guyana since 2015, the Government was a minority in the National Assembly, if the AFC and the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) voted together – which was evident – the Government would have had to resign, and elections be scheduled within three months. Nagamootoo claimed that his motion was based on the PPP Government spending in an unauthorised manner; the crisis in the sugar industry; poor macroeconomic policies that led to falling gold prices; not making demanded changes in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism and general ineptitude in governance. President Donald Ramotar then used his constitutional power under Art 70(1) to prorogue Parliament and schedule elections within six months. In that election the APNU/AFC coalition won by a razor thin majority of one seat.
Against that background and on the heels of its massive victory in the LGE where the PPP won more than 45,000 votes than the combined APNU and AFC parties – which competed separately – General Secretary of the PPP and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo filed a motion of no-confidence in the Government. The Opposition Leader justified his move not just on the margin of his party’s victory – which is equivalent to nine seats in Parliament – but also on the massive and growing unemployment crisis, including that in the sugar industry where four estates had been closed with 7000 workers fired but no sign that this has stabilised the industry. He also cited the extraordinary level of corruption of which $500 million was unaccounted for in the D’Urban Jubilee Park; $604 million of Pharma illegally sole-sourced from ANSA McAL and $153 million contract for the Demerara Harbour Bridge design, illegally awarded to a sole sourced firm.
While the Opposition Leader correctly reads the mood of the country at the glaring ineptitude of the Government which has left the ship of state drifting at best or sinking at worse – and the reason for its poor showing even among its traditional supporters – the actual passage of the motion, which will precipitate elections in three months – will face several challenges. The first will be to have the Speaker accept the motion. The PPP General Secretary pointed out that the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, had allowed the APNU/AFC no-confidence motion back in 2014 on much less substantive grounds.
But unfortunately, this Speaker has consistently shown over the past three years that he gives very short shrift either to precedent or conventions of parliamentary procedures when he issues his rulings. For instance, he has displayed great tolerance for the unparliamentarily behaviour of Government MPs but has suspended Opposition MPs for far less serious infractions. It is to be hoped that the Speaker will bow to the declared will of the people in the just-concluded LGE – in addition to the stated reasons by the Opposition Leader and allow the motion to reach the floor.
No confidence motions have to be treated with the greatest urgency by the Speaker since, as discussed above, they go to the very foundation of democratic governance. For instance, it should certainly take precedence over the discussions of Budget 2019, since these will possibly be moot if the People’s National Congress-led Government cannot muster a majority to continue in office in 2019.