Min. Ramjattan defends govt challenge to Dec. 21 vote

DPI, Guyana, Monday, March 11, 2019

Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, in a recent interview with Kaieteur News, explained and justified the government’s position on the on-going litigation in the Court of Appeal on the December 21, 2018 vote.

According to an article published by the newspaper, speaking on the various constitutional issues arising from the no-confidence vote, Minister Ramjattan had this to say;

“There are a number of them, almost all of which have been canvassed publicly and dealt with in the recent judgment of our Chief Justice. Frankly, I must admit some are very novel… But as we lawyers will tell you, the novelty of an argument is no embarrassment to its validity. That is how the law develops and evolves.”

The Public Security Minister said the first issue is whether that no-confidence motion is correctly a “vote of confidence” as provided for in Article 106 (6) of Guyana’s Constitution.

“Under our Independence Constitution, the tenure of Ministers and the Government could be halted once the National Assembly passes a Resolution declaring that it has no confidence in the Government by the votes of a majority of all the elected members. This formulation was altered in 2000 to bring in our existing Article 106 (6), which provides for a ‘vote of confidence,” Minister Ramjattan said.

He further added “Is this “vote of confidence” equivalent to a “vote of no-confidence?” Taking our peculiar constitutional system into account, it being a mix of Parliamentarism and Presidentialism, consequent upon the 1980 Constitution, this question must be given an interpretation which will bring finality to it. Academic and judicial literature points to a difference and distinction between the two. The effect of this has certain consequences which can have a favourable outcome for Government.”

The second matter highlighted by the minister was if a no-confidence vote is catered for, is the threshold vote 34 members of the Assembly, or 33?

“A lasting, certain meaning must be given to the words “the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly,” he said.

Minister Ramjattan noted that it has been “repeated ad nauseam recently, those on one side say it means 33 and those on the other side say 34. Our Chief Justice, too, has held it at 33. But another higher Court can be impressed with 34.”

He further explained “Upon applying the juridical reasoning that goes along with construing these matters of the Constitution, an opposite but still cogent and compelling higher number of 34 can be the pronouncement. What is the principle applicable? It is the “half plus one” principle. Applying this, the mathematical outcome is 33.5. Since there is never .5 or half of a National Assembly member, then the next principle to be applied must be, what I call the Saunders principle [out of the Hughes v Rogers case], that is, rounding up to the next whole number which will take it to 34. Why take away from the government this .5? This half or .5 certainly has value and must mean something.”

The minister suggested that the King Solomon case can be argued in favour of maintaining stability and avoiding anarchy and crisis.

“We all know that King Solomon gave the whole child to one of the two parties disputing it. One was left without.”

When questioned if the CCJ President, Justice Saunders may have varying opinions from his colleague, the minister responded:

“Indeed. But the opportunity must be given for us to reach there to test that. This same Constitution gives us a right of access to the highest court for rulings on these important public issues which have such far-reaching consequences, and which, if determined today, will make for certainty and finality tomorrow. This right is not subordinate to others in the Constitution. And then again, just think of the scenario of having to go to an Elections with all the expenses, and trauma and so much more, and then having the final court, in the midst of it all, finding favour with these arguments. Do we un-dissolve a dissolved Assembly?”

Minister Ramjattan in response to another line of questioning, expounded on the issues that would be resolved upon the ending of the ongoing litigation.

“A third matter has to do with the issue of whether a dual citizen’s vote is a valid vote which should be counted or not in the proceeding in which it was cast. It was a major contention in the recent High Court. The ruling was that Charrandass’ vote was valid. In my opinion, there are similarly strong arguments to the contrary. Here again, finality and certainty will be brought when the appeal reaches the highest level.”

Minister Ramjattan said the High Court made a finding that Charrandass held dual citizenship, and hence was disqualified (by Article 155 of the Constitution) from being nominated or elected and even sitting in the Assembly. However, despite having so ruled, the court validated and allowed the count of his vote in that proceeding.

“It [the Court] rationalised this by using a provision namely Article 165 (2) which provides that… the presence or participation of any person not entitled to be present at or to participate in the proceedings of the Assembly shall not invalidate the proceedings.”

He, however, pointed out that another court could interpret that exact Article 165 (2) and rule that Charrandass’ vote is not saved nor validated.

“What is validated and saved is the proceeding in which such a person as Charrandass was present and participated in. So, his one “YES! YES! YES!” vote by logical deduction should not be counted, he, being a person who was not even fit to be nominated or elected as a member. That is the interpretation that can be put to that article. And with all due deference to the Learned Judge, I believe that will be the case ultimately,” Minister Ramjattan said.

The article also noted that the minister was asked whether he had other issues of significance he wished to highlight.

“I believe the irreconcilable formulations in Article 106 (6) and 106 (7) should be settled by a judicial interpretation from our highest court; just like what happened in the term limit case which settled the issue that Jagdeo or any other can run a third term.

We, in Government and the public at large, must know without any potential disputation what is the meaning of (6) and (7). Of course, one says we must resign, and the other says we must resign until another president is sworn in. It is an unsatisfactory state of affairs which ought to be resolved by the highest court. And whatever the decision, we will all adhere to.”

He concluded, “… whatever the decision at the highest level, it will be liked by one half of this country and disliked by the other half. But knowing my countrymen, it will be respected by all. And that will be so, not because the reasoning might be necessarily right, but simply because it is final.”

Information in this article was first published by Kaieteur News