No-confidence resolution: CJ to rule on “majority” and “dual citizen” challenges at the end of January

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Chief Justice (Ag) Roxane George, SC
The hearing of the legal challenges coming out of the No confidence vote began on Tuesday with acting Chief Justice (CJ) Roxanne George approving applications for Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo and Minister of State Joseph Harmon to be joined to the proceedings. 

The first case was filed by private citizen Compton Reid, who is challenging the validity of the vote of former Member of Parliament (MP) Charrandas Persaud, stating that he had falsely declared that he was a Guyanese citizen.

Reid is arguing, among other things that, Persaud who has dual citizenship acted in contravention of Article 155 (1) (a) of the Constitution of Guyana “…by virtue of his own act and acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience and adherence to a foreign power to wit, the Sovereign State of Canada.”

Jagdeo, through Attorney Anil Nandlall, had made application in the High Court to become a party to the proceedings. He had said that the case put forward by Reid is aimed at nullifying the no-confidence motion and preventing the law from taking its course through the provisions outlined in the Constitution.

Further, he stated that it pointed to political issues that could have far-reaching implications for national democracy, peace, order and good governance in Guyana. As such, he believes that filing a legal action will help to diminish the possibility of this ever occurring.

On December 21, the No-confidence Motion brought by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party against the Government in the National Assembly succeeded when Persaud broke rank and made a conscience vote in favour of the motion.

Following the passage, both the President and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had given assurances that the administration would uphold the Constitution.

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.”

Meanwhile, clause 7 goes on to state 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.”

Despite this commitment, Government went ahead and unsuccessfully sought to have the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, reverse his decision on the passage of the resolution.

The Speaker acknowledged that while he does have the authority to revisit and reverse rulings in the National Assembly, he must always act in conformity with the constitution.

As such, Dr Scotland informed the chambers that their questions must first be settled outside of Parliament, and that any court ruling would guide future actions of the House.

At the High Court on Tuesday Persaud, who was represented by lawyer Sanjeev Datadin, was deemed by the CJ to have been served.

Attorney Nandlall noted that Jagdeo, as Opposition Leader, should have been joined to the proceedings in the first place.

The carried motion was brought in his name.

Following enquiries from Attorney Neil Boston, Justice George made it clear that she would issue her ruling for the legal challenge brought by Reid and the one advanced by Attorney General Basil Williams by January month end.

Williams, had filed for the court to put on hold the enforcement of the no-confidence resolution, which was passed on December 21, 2018.

Williams, who is seeking relief under the Constitution, wants the court to rule on whether the Speaker’s decision on the December 21, 2018 motion was indeed carried by a majority of all elected members, and whether or not the 33-to-32 breakdown means it was validly passed.

In his petition which was filed separately from the dual citizenship challenge, Williams argued that the current total elected members of the National Assembly is 65, and the majority of members legally prescribed by Article 106 (6) of the Constitution is tantamount to an absolute majority that legally requires a vote of 34 or more.

The Government believes there was not a majority passage of the no-confidence motion, but the Opposition disagrees and believes that the Government is attempting to buy time in office.

Attorney and Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram had also appealed to join these proceedings to have the High Court validate the no-confidence resolution and have Government comply with Constitutional provisions to demit office and call elections no later than March of this year.

Though attorney Kamal Ramkarran, Ram’s grounds of appeal, also seeking relief under the Constitution, stated that Government was defeated with 33 votes against 32; that Government should resign if defeated on a confidence vote; that 18 days had passed, and Government gave no indication to resign nor has fixed a date for national and regional elections.

Ram’s application to join was approved by Justice George, who also set aside January 24 for oral submissions.

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