Courts to determine validty of Dec. 21 vote

─ former govt dual citizenship called into question

─ Judicial system to redeem legislature

DPI, Guyana, Monday, January 7, 2019

Following the December 21, 2018 vote, the Supreme Court of Judicature has been approached to determine whether former Government Member of Parliament (MP), Charandass Persaud was qualified to vote in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018.

This was reiterated by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo in his weekly column “My Turn” in the Guyana Chronicle Newspapers.

The Prime Minister stated that the court action cited Article 155 (1) (a) of the Guyana Constitution which says that a person who swears allegiance to a foreign power or state, is not qualified to be a member of the National Assembly.

At the time of voting, the Government MP, who crossed the floor and voted with the opposition, was found to be a Canadian citizen.

While noting the reports of several other persons holding dual citizenship while sitting as members of the Guyana Parliament, Prime Minister Nagamootoo said:

“The pronouncement by the court would, therefore, not only impact on the validity of the vote in the no-confidence motion but would clearly guide future constitutional reforms that could protect governments from being corruptly and capriciously removed by a single member who has pledged loyalty to a foreign country.” He emphasised, “Our constitution must protect our Parliament from being derailed by a foreign agent, a lunatic or someone who does it for “cassareep!”

The Prime Minister said that apart from these constitutional challenges “Guyana is also at the cross-road of a new political and moral crisis”. He alluded to this being triggered by the “alleged procurement by gold, and not guns, for a coup d’etat.”

This, he said, “adds a new, intriguing dimension to hitherto known political theories on the overthrow of elected governments.”

In concluding his column, Prime Minister Nagamootoo expressed his hope that Guyana’s judicial system “may yet redeem the integrity of the legislature, and remove the dark shadows of doubt as to whether a motion to oust an elected government has met the threshold set out in the Guyana constitution.”

Below is a copy of the Prime Minister’s article which was taken from his social media page.

Anara Khan

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Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo | MY TURN

WHAT DID THE SPEAKER SAY?

ON January 3, Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland revisited the controversial 33:32 vote on the motion of no-confidence in the government. He disclosed that after the motion was passed, he had received information which raised doubts as to whether the motion was properly carried by the margin of one vote.

He said that the information he received was supported by case law and parliamentary practice from other countries, and it raises certain issues regarding the interpretation of provisions of the constitution.

Dr. Scotland is a practising attorney and an expert on the international Law of the Sea. His pronouncements, therefore, would have weight, especially his preference for the court to “place beyond doubt” any question which may exist regarding the constitutional issues.

The Speaker was very clear that there are “different, even competing views” of certain provisions of the constitution which need examination and require final determination.

COMPELLING REASONS

The constitution is the supreme law of Guyana. While the Speaker has what he described as “very wide authority to reverse his ruling,” he would not do so without “strong and compelling grounds.”

It is the Supreme Court of Judicature which has to consider these grounds in its interpretation of provisions of the constitution. Where the court does so, it is expected that guidance to both the Speaker and the National Assembly on the constitutionality of any ruling would be handed down.

It is in this context that the decision of the Speaker not to reverse the ruling that the motion was carried, does not exclude the possibility that he could, if directed by the court, to do so.

At the kernel of this issue is a claim that the majority required for passing a no-confidence motion is a majority of all the 65 elected members of the National Assembly. It was contended that, that majority requires one-half of all members, rounded up to the next higher number, plus one other member, which would be 34 and not 33.

MATHEMATICAL FORMULA

There have been dogmatic and even cynical views on the interpretation of Article 106 (6) of the constitution, which prescribes the majority required for passage of a confidence vote. With some scorn at the mathematical formula of one-half plus one being used in calculating a majority where an odd number is involved, well-known cynics conclude that this would result in 32+34 being equal to 65. They ignore the argument that if the composition of our parliament were 64, the formula of one-half plus one would produce a majority of 33. Would this mean that 32+33 is equal to 64?

I can understand that for the layperson this would seem complicated, and he or she would welcome the intervention of the court to settle both the principle and the numbers. I, therefore, find disturbing that a few lawyers, who ought to promote the efficacy of our judicial system, prefer fresh elections instead of a court review of these issues. It is evident that they either have their ponies in the race, or are themselves chomping at the bits for a run.

In my view that it is always the better course in an unprecedented case such as that in which Guyana finds itself, to look to the court to provide what the Speaker sees as “certain and finite answers.” That may form the basis for “full, final and complete settlement” of controversies arising from the interpretation of provisions of our constitution.

CITIZEN OF FOREIGN STATE

The Supreme Court has since been approached to intervene, in the first instance, to determine the constitutional issue, whether the rogue MP was qualified to vote in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018.

The action cited Article 155 (1)(a) of the Guyana Constitution which provides that a person who swears allegiance to a foreign power or state, is not qualified to be a member of the National Assembly. The MP who crossed the floor and voted with the opposition was, at the time of voting, found to be a Canadian citizen.

It has been reported that there are several other persons who hold dual citizenship but are sitting as members of the Guyana parliament. The pronouncement by the court would, therefore, not only impact on the validity of the vote in the no-confidence motion, but would clearly guide future constitutional reforms that could protect governments from being corruptly and capriciously removed by a single member who has pledged loyalty to a foreign country. Our constitution must protect our Parliament from being derailed by a foreign agent, a lunatic or someone who does it for “casareep”!

The disclosure that the rogue MP had made deals to buy a US$1 million (G$206 million) of gold for export to Canada, has tainted his feigned claim that he acted out of “conscience” or some undefined Hindu Dharmic conviction.

By casting his vote, the treacherous way that he did, he has tarnished the integrity of the Parliament where members are supposed to be “honourable” and bound by an oath to discharge his/her functions without fear or favour. When confronted with the allegation that he had accepted favour for his vote, he callously brushed it aside with the incriminating retort, “if ah tek bribe, so what?”

POLITICAL AND MORAL CRISIS

Apart from the legal or constitutional challenges, Guyana is also at the cross-road of a new political and moral crisis, triggered by the alleged procurement by gold, and not guns, of a coup d’etat. This adds a new, intriguing dimension to hitherto known political theories on the overthrow of elected governments.

While I was in high school, one of the first episodes that I have read in my study of English History was on the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot. That was during 1605 – over 500 years ago. But what transpired on the night of December 21, 2018, in the Parliament of Guyana would leave its own putrid smell down the corridors of history.

Our courts, however, may yet redeem the integrity of the legislature, and remove the dark shadows of doubt as to whether a motion to oust an elected government has met the threshold set out in the Guyana constitution.

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