Govt unlawfully holding onto office by not resigning – former Speaker

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Former Speaker and Attorney-at-Law Ralph Ramkarran, S.C

Not yet having acted in compliance with Article 106 (6) of the Guyana Constitution by resigning, the Cabinet, including the President, is unlawfully holding onto office, former Speaker of the National Assembly and prominent Attorney, Ralph Ramkarran has said.

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 his weekly column Conversation Tree, Ramkarran stated that a court would be approving this illegality if it allowed even a temporary break from compliance with Article 106 (6), especially given the fact that it is not the end of the life of the Government.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, having declined to reverse the declaration on December 21, 2018, that the no-confidence motion against the Government had been carried on a vote of 33-32 in favour, has shifted the arena of contest to the courts.

Ramkarran, however, made reference to comments made by Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, who is reported to have said that there has not been a resignation of the President or Government nor will there be such a resignation, arguing that the country cannot be left without a government.

Ramjattan had further argued that Government retained its full panoply of legal powers and was with jurisdiction to exercise its legal authority.

But the former Speaker said the Minister missed the fact that Article 106 (7) specifically provides that there shall not be a “governance vacuum”.

Also, Ramkarran said it was not known if Ramjattan was aware of the “Caretaker Conventions” which apply when a government is facing elections.

According to him, the “Caretaker Conventions” apply during the period from the dissolution of the Parliament to the election of the new Government, because there is no oversight.

In summary, the conventions are that no major policy decisions are taken to commit an incoming Government or limit its freedom to act, no major contracts or agreements are entered into, and the use of Government resources in a manner to advantage a particular party is avoided.

In a local context, the former House Speaker said the “Caretaker Conventions” should be applied from the moment the no-confidence motion was passed because Article 106 (6) dictates the resignation of the Cabinet, which suggests a caretaker role for the Government thereafter.

“The passage of the natural resources legislation and Minister Ramjattan’s remarks signify quite clearly that the Cabinet, including the President, have no intention of resigning and of observing any caretaker conventions,” he further observed in his column.

Meanwhile a court case has been filed by Compton Herbert Reid against the Speaker, Charrandas Persaud and the Attorney General seeking to set aside the no-confidence vote of December 21, 2018. The ground is that the vote of Persaud was invalid because he holds a Canadian passport.

“An order to stay the no-confidence resolution is also being sought. The reports make no mention of the motion required 34 votes to be passed. No doubt Article 165 (2) of the Constitution will arise for consideration,” he observed.

Ramkarran noted too that consideration would no doubt also be given to the right or power of a court to interrupt a constitutional process set in train by a parliamentary motion, on which a vote was taken and deemed to have been carried.

He said, “If the power exists, should it be exercised, ad interim, upon an allegation that is prima facie answerable by Article 165 (2) and in circumstances where the notional applicant, the Cabinet, is committing a continuing wrong by not resigning? The question will no doubt be: How can a court allow a Cabinet to stay in office when the Constitution, a superior instrument to the court, by which the court is bound, says that it should resign?”

President David Granger is expected to meet with Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday to discuss a number of issues, but topping that list is the no-confidence resolution.

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