Opposition claims Parliamentary Secretaries’ appointments breach Constitution

In his latest court action, Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones is contending that the appointments of Sarah Browne and Vickash Ramkissoon as non-elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and Parliamentary Secretaries to the Amerindian Affairs and Agriculture Ministries respectively were done in breach of the Constitution of Guyana.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, Sarah Browne

According to proceedings filed in the High Court, Jones is contending that Browne and Ramkissoon cannot be appointed as non-elected MPs since they were named on the List of Candidates presented by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic for the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.
This, he contends, makes them elected members of the National Assembly, since their names were extracted from the party’s list. As such, he argues, they are not valid and legal members of the National Assembly, and are not validly appointed Parliamentary Secretaries.
In the submissions filed, it has been stated that Article 103 (3) of the Constitution provides that not more than four Ministers and two Parliamentary Secretaries shall be appointed by the President from among persons who are qualified to be elected as members of the National Assembly.
Jones has further submitted that Article 186 (1) states that Parliamentary Secretaries may not be appointed from among persons who are elected members of the National Assembly, or are qualified to be elected as such members.
Additionally, he has stated in his submissions that Article 183 (3) states that a Parliamentary Secretary who was not an elected member of the Assembly at the time of his appointment shall (unless he becomes such a member) be a member of the Assembly by virtue of holding the office of Parliamentary Secretary but shall not vote in the Assembly.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry, Vickash Ramkissoon

The APNU/AFC MP has said he has been advised by Attorney Roysdale Forde, SC, and verily believes, that Browne and Ramkissoon are elected members of the National Assembly under Article 60 (2), which provides for Members of Parliament to be elected under the system of proportional representation.
Jones is arguing that under Article 103 (3) and Article 186 of the Constitution, Browne, and Ramkissoon are not valid and legal members of the National Assembly, and are not validly appointed Parliamentary Secretaries of the Government, because they are on the party’s List of Candidates.
Noting that Browne and Ramkissoon continue to be members of the National Assembly, Jones is asking the court to grant an Order compelling Speaker of the National Assembly, Manzoor Nadir, to prevent them from sitting in and participating in the business of the National Assembly.
“…as a member of the National Assembly, it is right and proper that I insist and demand that there be full compliance with the Constitution,” Jones has said in an affidavit in support of his application. He is also asking the court to award him costs. A date for hearing this matter is likely in the new year.

Nothing unconstitutional
Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Gail Teixeira had told this publication that there is nothing unconstitutional with the appointments of Browne and Ramkissoon. On September 15, 2020, when they were appointed, Teixeira had explained that constitutional reforms in 2009 provide for four technocrat Ministers and two Parliamentary Secretaries.
According to the veteran politician, Parliamentary Secretaries can be appointed from MPs who are elected [on the party’s list], or from persons who are eligible to be MPs. “So, you can have an MP who is a Parliamentary Secretary and one who is not.”
“The ones that are not elected MPs [not on the party’s list], they are allowed to sit in Parliament (to) speak but not vote.”
She had further explained that, in the past, Pauline Sukhai, now Amerindian Affairs Minister, was an MP and a Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry she now heads. She said that current Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton, was an MP and a Parliamentary Secretary in the Health Ministry.
This latest court action comes two weeks after Chief Justice Roxane George had ruled that the appointment of Oneidge Walrond as Tourism Minister and Member of Parliament was unlawful, since she was a citizen of the United States when she took the oath of office.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall had conceded that her appointment was done in breach of the Constitution, and the Government has since taken steps to have this rectified by having Walrond retake the respective oath of office.
Article 155 prohibits dual citizens from being elected as members of the National Assembly.