PPP will not attend National Assembly sittings until CCJ rules on case – Jagdeo

No-confidence appeal
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Sunday announced that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) would not be attending the sittings of the National Assembly when it reconvened in the near future.
According to Jagdeo in the announcement on his social media page, he wishes to “place on record that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) will not attend any sitting of the National Assembly”.
This, according to Jagdeo, will be in effect while the appeal of the Appellate Court’s ruling on the no-confidence motion is pending at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Following the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the no-confidence motion was not validly passed, the PPP/C had announced on Friday that it would move to the CCJ.
Acting Chief Justice Roxane George, in January, upheld the December 21, 2018 passage of the no-confidence motion, ruling that in Guyana’s 65-member National Assembly a majority is 33. This, however, was appealed by Attorney General Basil Williams.
But while Justice Rishi Persaud on Friday dismissed the appeal and concurred with the ruling of the High Court, his colleague appellate Judges allowed the State’s appeal.
Both Justices Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Dawn Gregory opined that while 33 was the majority of the 65-member National Assembly, the successful passage of a no-confidence motion required an “absolute majority” of 34 and not the “simple” 33 majority that has been used to pass ordinary business in the House.
Following the ruling, Opposition Leader Jagdeo stated that the Constitution of Guyana is pellucid on what number of votes is needed for the passage of a no-confidence motion; it is a majority of all elected parliamentarians – the majority of 65 is 33 votes.
According to him, the Constitution is clear in saying that the vote is valid if a majority of all elected parliamentarians – 33 parliamentarians – cast their vote in favour of the passage of a no-confidence motion.
He added that all right-thinking Guyanese would conclude that 33 is the majority of 65 – a conclusion that was extensively addressed by the Chief Justice (ag) in her ruling.
“No strange mathematics can change what is in the Constitution … a majority of all elected members in the National Assembly is 33,” Jagdeo said.
He explained that the argument about a vote of 34 being needed was not the argument he expected to be used by the Appeal Court to overturn the ruling of the Chief Justice (ag).
“I thought (that) if the Chief Justice’s ruling was to be overturned, it would have been on another technicality, not this one … this is probably the weakest argument,” Jagdeo said, adding that the ruling of the Chief Justice (ag) was profound and well-reasoned.
The Opposition Leader noted that in 2014, when the Alliance For Change (AFC), supported by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), advanced a no-confidence motion against then President Donald Ramotar, it was done with the explicit acknowledgement that AFC and APNU had the 33 votes that were needed for their no-confidence motion to be successful.
He added that prior to the December 21, 2018 vote, the coalition Government boasted that it had 33 votes, and, therefore, the no-confidence motion could not be passed with a vote of 32.
After the vote, according to him, both President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo accepted that the PPP/C no-confidence motion was validly passed in the House.
In addition, Attorney and social commentator, Christopher Ram posited that the Court made a grave error of unquestioning acceptance of decisions and principles from afar with no regard that, at best, they could be of no more than persuasive value.
In the process, he added, Friday’s decision marked a turning point in Guyana’s jurisprudence, introducing a harmful level of uncertainty into constitutional and statutory interpretation in local courts. In this regard, he stated that the Court was “wrong” in its interpretation of what constitutes a majority in the National Assembly.
Ram recalled that during Friday’s ruling, one of the Judges cited a passage from a foreign jurisdiction that any legislation means what it says and does not mean what it does not say. He then pointed to Attorney Anil Nandlall’s submissions to the Court in which he cited that the dictum in perhaps the most famous local constitutional case (AG v Mohammed Ali) that, “It is a strong thing to read into an act of Parliament words which are not there, and in the absence of a clear necessity, it is a wrong thing to do.”
That unfortunately, according to Ram, is exactly what the Court of Appeal appears to have done. He added that it took some effort to hear the Appellate Judges say how attracted they were by the arguments of Grenadian Senior Counsel, Dr Francis Alexis, that a vote of no confidence was so important that it required a majority not contemplated by the Constitution.
“Impressed by this argument, the Court, by a simple majority, effectively ruled that there was a clear necessity to import and insert not only words that were not there, but the concept of absolute majority, which does not exist anywhere in our Constitution. Interestingly, if the same principle is applied to a vote of confidence brought by the Government in a 33-32 National Assembly, the motion would fail because it did not receive 34 votes,” the political analyst contended.
Furthermore, he stressed that the Court must also be aware that had former AFC Member of Parliament, Charrandas Persaud, not cast an adverse vote, 33 would have been accepted as a majority. On this point, he also reminded that the 2019 Budget was not passed by a majority of 34, noting that it was unlikely that anyone would argue that a budget was not special.
Meanwhile, the three Appellate Judges upheld the acting Chief Justice’s ruling with regard to the appeal filed by private citizen Compton Reid, on the validity of Charrandas Persaud’s vote given his dual citizenship status.
Justice George had ruled in the High Court that while it is illegal for MPs to be dual citizens, in Charrandas’s case this did not affect the validity of his vote on the motion and as such, the Appeal Court Judges on Friday dismissed the appeal filed by Reid.
With the Appellate ruling, Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge had announced on Friday that Government could now take steps to reconvene Parliament.