April 20 ruling for case against appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries
Sarah Browne and Vikash Ramkissoon, two Parliamentary Secretaries appointed by President Irfaan Ali, will have to wait for an April 20, 2021 decision by Chief Justice (ag), Roxane George, to know the fate of their continued employment as non-voting Members of Parliament (MPs).
Arguing against a legal challenge mounted by Opposition Chief Whip, Christopher Jones, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC, reasoned that the two MPs were “appointed” and not “extracted” from the List of Candidates, and as such, they have every right to sit in the House as non-voting members.
Backed by several legal minds in the APNU+AFC Coalition, Opposition Parliamentarian and attorney-at-Law, Roysdale Forde, has argued this to be false. He pointed out that the duo is also named on the governing People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) List of Candidates at the 2020 elections and, as such, they are elected members.
During a virtual court hearing on Tuesday, Forde said while he does not contend the appointment by the President, the two were unlawfully occupying seats in the House since they are elected Members by virtue of their names appearing on the List of Candidates.
Brown is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, while Ramkissoon is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry.
The law makes provision for the President to appoint, in addition to seats secured in an election, four technocrats Members of Parliament and two Parliamentary Secretaries who will not have the same voting rights as elected members who are extracted from a list.
It is on this premise Nandlall has argued that although the two MPs names appeared on the list, they were appointed and not extracted. His reasoning gave rise to the Chief Justice questioning whether an MP can be an elected and non-elected member at the same time, something he said is certainly possible.
“This is a simple case that has been made complicated by legal arguments… Sarah Brown and Vickash Ramkisson are persons who were on a list of candidates for the PPP at the last elections. They were, however, not extracted from that list to take up any of the 33 seats that the PPP obtained at those elections,” he said.
To support his point, Nandlall pointed to Article 113 of the Constitution which governs the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries, contending that although being elected members, Brown and Ramkissoon are not MPs on those grounds but rather became MPs through appointment after being found qualified in that regard.
“You can be an elected member and still be a Parliamentary Secretary. An elected member, who was not extracted, can still be appointed Parliamentary Secretary… because not being extracted will mean you will not be a voting member,” he added.
Nandlall also asked the Chief Justice to disregard a previous ruling by the late Justice Ian Chang that then ministers, Winston Felix and Keith Scott, cannot hold seats in the National Assembly as technocratic ministers.
She has also been asked to depart from the decision although it was upheld and confirmed by the Appellate Court. Nandlall has until Wednesday, April 14, 2021, to make additional and supporting submissions after which Forde will respond by April 15 with a judgment to be handed on at 15:00 hrs on April 20, 2021.
Expressing full confidence in the success of the fix date application filed and his written submissions, Forde said that while he was not challenging Brown and Ramkissoon’s appointment to the office of Parliamentary Secretary but was challenging their membership to the National Assembly by virtue of the appointment.
He does not believe that the appointment should result in membership to the National Assembly, particularly since they are elected members who were never extracted.
Among the reliefs being sought from the Court is for an order directing the Speaker of the National Assembly to prevent Browne and Ramkissoon from sitting in or participating in the business of the National Assembly.