Jan. 31st ruling on call for elections by March 21

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Chief Justice (ag) Roxanne George-Wiltshire will rule on January 31st whether the No Confidence motion of December 21 was valid and lawfully passed; and that as a result the President and Cabinet shall resign with “convenient speed” and make the way for elections no later than March 21.

The Chief Justice has undertaken to make her ruling in an application made by Attorney Christopher Ram.

The Chief Justice also has to rule on two other separate applications on similar issues; the other two applications were brought by citizen Compton Reid and the Attorney General Basil Williams.

In Court today, Attorney Kamal Ramkarran, representing Christopher Ram, briefly summarised the application he made to the Court.

The key declarations Ram is seeking are these:

  1. That the December 21 No Confidence motion in the National Assembly was properly, validly and lawfully passed
  2. That the passage of the motion requires the resignation of the Cabinet, including the President, with all convenient speed.
  3. That in accordance with Article 106 (7) of the Constitution, elections should be held within 90 days of the passage of the motion, meaning elections should be held no later than March 31.

Attorney Ramkarran argued that the use of words in Article 106 (6 and 7) of the constitution are clear and unambiguous and that in considering her ruling, the Chief Justice should not look at it through the alley of technicality.

Attorney Kamal Ramkarran

He argued that while the Constitution provides for the Government to remain in place and for essential functions to be carried out, the Cabinet cannot direct and control the Government.

As such, he said the Government must operate on limited functions until a new Government is sworn in. This, he argued, would mean that no major contracts or new legislation are put in place; business, as usual, must come to an end, he emphasised.

He pointed out that Government ministries are run by Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Departments and they can execute the functions of Government, including giving effect to budgetary provisions.

Ramkarran argued that the 90-day timeline for the holding of elections should not be affected by the readiness of the Guyana Elections Commission or even the time the court takes to determine the matter.

On the argument of what constitutes a majority in the House, Ramkarran contended that the constitution only provides for two types of voting, namely a vote of the majority and a vote of two-thirds of the House.

And so, he dismissed the argument that an “absolute” majority was needed to pass the No Confidence motion. He said 33 has always been contemplated and used as a majority in the 65-seat Parliament.

The Attorney General has contended that a majority of 34 or more is what was needed to pass the motion, on an argument that half of 65 is 32.5 and that half has to be rounded up to 33, and therefore a majority would have to be 33 plus one.

The vote of Mr Charrandass Persaud, which gave the opposition the extra vote it needed, is also being questioned in the Court. It is claimed that Mr Persaud, being a dual citizen, should not have been in the House and therefore his vote was invalid.

Chief Justice (ag) Roxanne George – Wiltshire

Attorney Ramkarran said that Parliament sets out the procedure for challenging the election of a Member and that further, a penalty is set out for anyone does not properly sit in the House.

Even so, he said the status of a member and his vote cannot be applied in retrospect, especially since Mr Persaud was a member of the Assembly and his membership was never questioned.

Attorney General Basil Williams argued that nowhere in constitution speaks of a caretaker Government and so the Government must remain in place until a new President is elected after elections, then is when the Cabinet resigns, he said.

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall, representing the Leader of the Opposition, said the Cabinet is compelled to resign by virtue of the passage of the No Confidence motion.

However, he agreed that the Government cannot cease to function.

Anil Nandlall

But he said the Cabinet is not the Government, that the Government is “larger” than Cabinet, which serves in an advisory capacity to the President.

He said that Parliament is made up of practice and procedure, and the practice and procedure has always been that 33 is the majority of 65 and the Attorney General has not explained to the Court why when in everything else 33 is treated as majority, it has to be a different majority on a vote of No Confidence.

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