CCJ ruling centres on a Guyanese Constitutional provision – Attorney-at-Law Eamon Courtenay SC tells court

― “put to the back of your minds the more traditional Westminster Model” where a person submits his or herself up for elections a – representative of a constituency, would not be faithful to what the people of Guyana have designed in their Constitution

─ MPs must vote with the way “their list/party votes”, any differences in opinion must take place in the Cabinet or political caucus, prior to going to the Assembly  

DPI, Guyana, Thursday, May 9, 2019

Appearing on behalf of the Government of Guyana before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Attorney-at-Law Eamon Courtenay SC., premised his initial arguments on the validity of former Member of Parliament, Charandass Persaud’s ability to legally cast his dissenting vote on December 21, 2018.

The learned Senior Counsel (SC) submitted that in his deliberations, the court should “put to the back of your minds the more traditional Westminster Model” that is familiar in the Caribbean. He pointed out that this “traditional model” where a person submits his or herself up for elections a – representative of a constituency, would not be faithful to what the people of Guyana have designed in their Constitution.

In recalling the no-confidence motion moved by the Opposition Leader and supported by Persaud, on December 21, the Senior Counsel referred to his speaking notes, (submitted to the CCJ) specifically paragraph 9 which sets out nine points. He inferred that there are three types of motions; i) A confidence motion initiated by the government and; ii) no-confidence motion, initiated by the Opposition and three other types of motions such as motions of censure or, of confidence.

SC Courtenay, who has garnered decades of professional experience, listed several examples of the motions and explained that in Guyana’s case, its revised 1980 Constitution had no provision for a no-confidence motion. “Rather it was the 2000, Amended Constitution that came, which added section 106.” He noted that a report of the Constitution Reform Commission speaks to the anti-defection provision, “and that they did not wish to have people crossing the floor.”

After clarifying the difference between the traditional Commonwealth-type constitutions and Guyana’s, the lawyer said that issues of MPs “crossing the floor” were countered by and that Amendment 156 (anti-defection provision). “It will succeed, and it is intended to succeed,” he stated.

The SC Counsel recalled the CCJ during deliberations previously, raised the question, “If the person can’t cross the floor? What’s the point of the whole exercise? Precisely the type of government you have in Guyana today!”

He explained that as a Coalition Government, it was understood that all parties entered into office on the basis that they would uphold certain promises made. Hence, the current Guyanese system dictated that only a “Confidence motion” could be moved. The anti-defection provision served to remind all MPs “remember how you got here” the SC said. He added that “nobody in Guyana can serve as an independent candidate, to be elected to the National Assembly. It cannot happen. You have to get your name on a list that is submitted by a party.”

The case for “certainty” as argued by an opposing lawyer about due dates for elections and more, did not have bearing since Guyana utilises a proportional representational system, the experienced attorney explained. “The number of seats is certain. There is no certainty about the people… I can recall you today. I can put you back in tomorrow. I can change whoever I want. The “certainty” is established by the number of votes that is received by the political party. That gives them the seats.” He added that when anyone joins a party and puts their name on the list to get elected, “You are saying [basically] I will abide by my party manifesto.”

Amendment 156 Section 3 of the Guyana Constitution states that if an MP does not intend to support his party, on any vote, a declaration must be made to the Speaker of the House in writing. The SC offered that in Guyana, any MP must support the policies and measures taken by his or her party. On every motion, MPs must vote with the way “their list/party votes”. He added that any differences in opinion must take place in the Cabinet or political caucus, prior to going to the Assembly. If this is not done, then the MP has violated the Guyanese Constitution, hence his or her vote is null.

Guyana’s system is similar to others across the region, he raised, which was agreed to by the court.

The former Region 6 MP Charandass Persaud, did not inform the Speaker of the House, Dr. Barton Scotland, of his intention to vote against his elected party and further gave all assurances that he would support the Coalition Government, against the Opposition.

The Belizean-born SC also raised the point that Persaud, a Canadian citizen, would have known that he was not entitled to be an MP, as he frequently travelled to that country. The court was told that Persaud had also renewed his Canadian passport in 2017. The court was further informed that he (Persaud) would have taken an oath, via a certificate of citizenship, to swear to the laws of Canada. The SC added that the “evidence points to him knowing what he was doing, and it gives a clear implication that he was a usurper… If you know that you are unqualified or disqualified, he [Persaud] is not only an imposter but a fraud. He [Persaud] was never validly elected.”

Attorney-at-Law Eamon Courtenay SC., was called to the bar in 1988, has authored several legal publications and specialises in Civil Litigation, Constitutional and Administrative Law, Admiralty, Extradition and Environmental Law. He also served as Belize’s Attorney General and Senator and as President of that country’s Bar Association.

The hearing in the CCJ resumes at 09:00hrs on May 10.

Paul Mc Adam.

Images: Kawsie Wishart.

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