This is the first time, as far as my memory goes, in my 82 years, that I am writing a letter to the press. I have kept away from writing directly to the press, but not from meeting and speaking with press reporters.
However, seeing the problem that a simple parliamentary matter has turned into and how greater that problem seems to be becoming, I feel urged on to share my experience and views. I am contributing to this matter because I myself have been involved with Parliament and its work for over half a century.
There have been two previous occasions in Guyana when a Speaker requested a Clerk to call a parliamentary sitting.
The first was in 1963. I have written a full story on this with 16 pages with all the details. Very briefly, this is what took place. The Speaker had given a ruling in the Legislative Assembly on the motion for the extension of the state of emergency.
The Government Members were not in favour of that ruling and it was reported that some of them even accosted the Speaker. For refusing to apologise, they were first named by the Speaker and then suspended by the Assembly.
Following disturbances in the Assembly, the Speaker adjourned the Assembly. No-Confidence Motions in the Speaker and in the Government were submitted.
The Speaker requested the Clerk to call the next meeting of the Assembly.
Although the Clerk did not share the Speaker’s view and was not only of the opinion, but knew that the date for the next sitting was a matter for the Government to decide, he nevertheless sought advice from the Attorney General’s Chambers.
In the explanatory advice which the Clerk received, the Attorney General had said, inter alia, that the Speaker was not competent to notify the date for a sitting and that the Clerk was under no duty to comply with the Speaker’s direction in that behalf.
He had further said that the competence in this matter resided where it normally rests, namely, with the Government of British Guiana.
The Clerk submitted the advice to the Speaker and informed him of his regret to comply with his instructions.
The Speaker went ahead, and caused the date proposed by him for the sitting to be announced. It was reported that the Government did not want the sitting and made the Clerk take away the Mace from the Office of the Legislature.
The Government also decided that the Legislature should be prorogued and the Governor was accordingly advised to do so. With the prorogation, all the problems came to an end.
In that 1963 incident, the PPP had formed the Government, Mr Rahman B Gajraj was the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and Mr Elwyn V Viapree was acting as the Clerk of the Legislature.
The next occasion was in 1972. As for the 1963 incident, I have also written a full story on this matter consisting of 32 pages with all the details. However, very briefly, this is what took place. The National Assembly was adjourned sine die.
The Deputy Speaker, in the absence of the Speaker, requested the Clerk to summon the next meeting of the Assembly for a date which had been determined by him, to discuss a matter which was considered urgent and of public importance.
The Clerk was not only of the opinion but he too was also sure and knew that the Deputy Speaker was not empowered to give notice for the Assembly to meet and advised him accordingly. The Deputy Speaker did not agree with the advice and several letters were exchanged on the matter between the Deputy Speaker and the Clerk.
The Clerk did not carry out the Speaker’s instructions to summon the meeting.
At that time in 1972, the PNC had formed the Government. The Speaker was Mr Sase Narain and the Deputy Speaker was Mr Derek C Jagan. I, Frank Narain, was the Clerk of the National Assembly.
There is now in the year 2014, 42 years later, a third occasion. On this occasion, the Speaker, Mr Raphael Trotman, requested the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr Sherlock E Isaacs, to call the next sitting of the National Assembly and the Clerk has refused to comply, and has given his reasons.
What do we see here? Three Clerks in succession have refused to carry out the instructions of two Speakers and one Deputy Speaker.
My predecessor was the first Clerk, I was the second and my successor is now the third. The three of us were/are not politicians, or members of political parties.
We were/are knowledgeable in and were/are the experts in the Standing Orders and their application, and in the procedures of the Legislative body. Why did the Speakers want to involve us? Maybe that is how the game of politics is played.
We were requested to call sittings by two Speakers and one Deputy Speaker. The first Speaker, when he made his request, had changed his support from the Government to the Opposition, the second was a Deputy Speaker from the Opposition, and the third is a Speaker from the Opposition. Unlike the Clerks, all three of these persons were/are politicians and supporters/members of political parties.
I would like to state that for the 36 years that I was the Clerk, none of the persons who became and served as Speakers during that time ever made requests to me to call Parliament. It was a Deputy Speaker who did that. Those six persons were like six wise Speakers. They were Mr Aubrey Percival Alleyne, Mr Rahman Baccus Gajraj, Mr Sase Narain, Mr Derek Chunilall Jagan, Mr Winslow Martin Zephyr, and Mr Hari Narayen Ramkarran.
Mr Sherlock Ewart Isaacs, the present Clerk of the National Assembly, has now joined his predecessors.
I would like to congratulate him on his correct interpretation and application of the Standing Orders and for his boldness in taking the action which he took. In this action, he was impartial and acted correctly, independently and fearlessly, like his predecessors. Congratulations, Sherlock.
Continue with and keep up the good work and remember that you have my support. There is much more on this matter – more details, more of my experiences and views and even my opinion – that
I can write about and share and give, but for the time, I will keep them in my mind and hold my peace and further say not.
Frank A Narain
Former Clerk of the National Assembly