Today’s sitting of National Assembly “unconstitutional” – PPP Chief Whip to Speaker
…says PPP will not participate in undermining Guyana’s Constitution
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has indicated that its members will be boycotting Parliament until a sitting is called to address the kicking off of the constitutionally mandated General and Regional Elections.
According to the Party, Parliament should only reconvene to deal with the hosting of the elections and not continue as usual since the Government has been defeated by a no-confidence vote. However, Government is claiming that it is business as usual since the motion was not successfully passed as it required 34 votes instead of the customary 33.
According to Article 106 (6) of the Constitution, “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.” However, Article 106 (7) states 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.”
In a letter sent to speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, PPP’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira said it will not be participating in what it deems to be an unconstitutional sitting of the House. In the letter dated, December 31, 2018, Teixeira noted that in accordance with Article 106 (6) of the Constitution is clear as to the next course of action which is the resignation of the Government along with the calling of elections. Teixeira added that it is not competent for the Government to move or participate in a sitting of the National Assembly if it does not announce the date of impending elections.
On the Order Paper for the January 3 sitting are the Value-Added Tax (Amendment Bill, the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, and the Property Tax (Amendment) Bill. “In this regard, the parliamentary Opposition is of the view that the business that is scheduled to be considered by the National Assembly on the 3rd January, 2019, is not in compliance with Article 106(7) of the Constitution. Therefore, any sitting of the National Assembly that is not in compliance with this article is a violation of the Constitution. Thus, the parliamentary Opposition will not participate in undermining the Constitution, and, further recommend that this sitting should not be held,” Teixeira wrote.
Ever since the passage of the motion, there have been calls for Government to resign and pave the way forward for the election. However, Government is refusing to do so on the grounds it was not defeated. The Government have since submitted a legal brief to Speaker of House, asking him to revisit and possibly reverse his decision; a move that never happened in the history of Guyana’s Parliament.
However, the PPP has since written to Scotland informing him that he has no review powers over the motion.
Teixeira in her letter noted that “The parliamentary Opposition is of the view that the No-confidence Motion having been conclusively dealt with, in, and, by the National Assembly on the 21st December, 2018, is not open to review. We have been advised, with no disrespect to you sir, that the Speaker has no review powers over the said motion, and, that the Speaker, the Clerk and the National Assembly are functus officio in respect of and in relation to the said motion. Furthermore, in our humble opinion, Standing Orders 26(e) precludes any effort to rescind a resolution on a question already decided on in the same Session.”
She further informed that Standing Order 26(e), which states that “it (National Assembly) shall not receive discussion of a matter which has been discussed in the same Session”, is clear as to the way forward.
At a press conference earlier this week, Attorney General Basil Williams admitted that the Constitution of Guyana makes no distinction between an absolute majority and simple majority.
When asked about the Government ‘switching its mouth’ after promising to respect the results of the no-confidence vote, Williams claimed that President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo said what they had to say at that time to “keep the peace.”
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has since slammed the rhetoric by Government members and other coalition supporters that a 34:32 vote was needed as “majority” over the actuality of “33:32” votes, to have the “no-confidence” motion passed. According to Jagdeo, this interpretation of the Constitution is “utter stupidity”, noting that it shows the desperation of the Government.
On December 21, 2018, the No-confidence Motion brought by the parliamentary Opposition against the Government succeeded when former Alliance For Change Member of Parliament Charrandas Persaud broke rank and made a conscience vote in favour of the motion.
President Granger has already committed to following the provisions outlined in the Constitution, facilitating early elections and engaging in dialogue with the Leader of the Opposition. Since the passage of the motion on December 21, 2018; however, persons aligned with the coalition party have sought to question the motion’s validity even as the vote has already been certified.
The original proponent of the 34-vote argument is Attorney Nigel Hughes, a former AFC Chairman, who is also the husband of Government Minister Cathy Hughes. Since then, Government has held on to this explanation like a lifeline.