APNU/AFC’s technocrat Ministers received salaries, benefits despite court ruling – Teixeira

Former Ministers Winston Felix and Keith Scott

In January 2020, the Guyana Court of Appeal ruled that former APNU/AFC technocrat Ministers Keith Scott and Winston Felix illegally occupied seats in Parliament since they were on the coalition’s list of national candidates. The court ruled that their appointments were in contravention of the Constitution.

Despite the ruling, Scott and Felix, who were at the time Minister within Ministry of Social Protection and Citizenship Minister, respectively, continued as Ministers until August 2, 2020, when the PPP/C was declared winners of the March 2, 2020 elections, receiving their salaries, and benefits such as security, driver and a vehicle.

This was revealed by Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Gail Teixeira during the budget debates.

“…And you know what, they continued as Ministers until August 2, receiving their pays and benefits and security and driver and car. So, not only did they flouted the Constitution, they flouted the courts,” Teixeira noted.

The Court of Appeal had affirmed an earlier ruling handed down in February 2016 by late Chief Justice Ian Chang. Justice Chang in that ruling held that Scott and Felix cannot sit in the National Assembly as Technocrat Ministers as they are candidates on APNU/AFC List of Candidates.

Following the results of the 2015 General and Regional Elections, the coalition was allocated 33 of the 65 seats in the National Assembly. The leader of its List of Candidates, former President David Granger, then selected members to sit in the National Assembly.

Both Scott and Felix were on June 6, 2015, appointed executive members of the Government. Notwithstanding this, they also occupied two of the four additional seats in the National Assembly which cater for persons selected from outside a party’s list, or in other words, Technocrat Ministers.

The Appeal Court ruled that Felix and Scott cannot become Technocrat Ministers under Articles 103 (3) and 105 of the Constitution since they were elected as members of the National Assembly pursuant to paragraph 2 of Article 60 or Article 160 (2) of the Constitution, as defined by Article 232 of the Constitution.

In the case of Scott and Felix, they were permitted to present bills, answer questions and partake in parliamentary debates; however, they could not vote. Once elected by the people, the Constitution does not permit such a person to sit in the National Assembly without being able to vote; it is only those persons who are not on a list, and, therefore, did not face the electorate, who can sit in the National Assembly without the right to vote.

The previous APNU/AFC Administration had argued that Justice Chang’s ruling was bad in law and a breach of the principles of natural justice. Further to that, APNU/AFC had argued that at the time of delivering his ruling, Chang, who was the outgoing Chief Justice, was functus officio. This term is used to define an officer who is no longer in office or of an instrument that has fulfilled its purpose.

At the Court of Appeal, APNU/AFC did not present any arguments against Justice Chang’s ruling. In fact, it took issue at the procedure used to initiate the challenge to the former Ministers’ appointment. At the High Court, a Notice of Motion was filed challenging the appointments.

APNU/AFC, however, contended that if one wishes to challenge the validity of a sitting Member of Parliament, then an election petition must be moved pursuant to Article 163 of the Constitution. The Court of Appeal dismissed APNU/AFC’s appeal on both the procedural and substantive ground.

At the time of the ruling, Parliament was already dissolved, rendering the ruling of no effect. The ruling will serve as guidance for future ministerial appointments.