Instead of providing a ruling on whether the Prime Minister (PM), in this case Moses Nagamootoo, had the right to be present in the National Assembly when he was acting as President, Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Barton Scotland announced on the final day of examining the budget estimates on Friday that he was referring the matter to a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
The parliamentary Opposition, which had long argued that constitutionally, the PM must recuse himself from Parliament when acting as President, a situation which prevailed when they were in government, are likely to go to court over the issue.
In his letter to the Opposition, which he read out, Scotland urged both sides to resolve the matter in the Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform.
Scotland also recommended in his letter that no approach be made to the justice system to resolve the matter.
But in an interview after the Speaker made his statement, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira expressed her disappointment with the decision and noted that the Party is left with little choice but to approach the courts.
“I don’t think we have any other choice but to do that. I can’t say when and where and if it’s going to be tomorrow, but I don’t think we have any other choice. The language (of the Constitution) is so clear that if the Speaker is not prepared to just carry out the requirements of the Constitution, then we have to go to the next level.”
“All week you have been asking me have I got an answer (from the Speaker). And I kept saying, we’re giving him time. We didn’t want to be pushing him and saying in the press, he’s not answering. We were giving him a chance. Well he had all week for his chance. For him to say there’s no proof to do with Prime Minister Sam Hinds means for the whole week, no research was done.”
According to Teixeira, it should have been easy to prove that former Prime Minister Samuel Hinds set a precedent by excusing himself whenever acting as President. She noted that for one, documents to these effects are right at Parliament.
“It would have been very simple. The instruments that swear in a Prime Minister comes here. A copy comes here. All they had to do was go and pick out any time between 1992 and 2015, pull out a couple dates and check the minutes.”
“And they would have found their proof. Prime Minister Sam Hinds did not come to this house when he was carrying out the functions of President because of these constitutional primers.”
Meanwhile, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall noted that much more is at stake than Nagamootoo. According to Nandlall in a statement on the issue, the respect for a National Assembly that upholds the rule of law without fear or favour is at stake.
“In a letter to the press, I detailed the relevant provisions of the Constitution in support of (our) contention. No one has since proffered a conflicting opinion. Indeed, former Speaker, Mr Ralph Ramkarran, SC, who once expressed a contrary view, finally concurred with me. The relevant constitutional provisions were explicitly set out in our letter to the Speaker. After five days, today, the Speaker responded. The response was disappointing.”
Nandlall observed that rather than address the simply issue raised, the Speaker “vacillated for three long pages”. Nandlall noted that the Standing Committee on Constitutional Reform, to which the matter was referred, has a mandate to consider proposals for constitutional reform.
“So rather than ensuring compliance with the Constitution in its current form, the Speaker, apparently, is recommending its reform,” Nandlall said.
“Our Parliament must be the laughing stock of the Commonwealth. How can the public have respect for our Parliament… and the laws of this land, when the makers of the law are treating the supreme law with such disregard?”
When President David Granger is out of the jurisdiction, Prime Minister Nagamootoo usually leads Government even while acting as President. With the budget estimates being examined and a no-confidence motion scheduled, the parliamentary Opposition finally demanded he vacate his seat until the President returned.
The Prime Minister has consistently defended his presence, saying this only applies for a Minister.
The Committee, meanwhile, is chaired by Attorney General Basil Williams. It has a total of eight members, drawn evenly from the Government and the Opposition.
The National Assembly is meanwhile expected to convene again on December 21, this time to debate a no-confidence motion against the Government.