Nandlall asks Court to dismiss ‘mace case’ as oral arguments set for Sept. 12

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By Kurt Campbell

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In an affidavit of defence, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, has asked High Court Judge, Justice Navindra Singh to dismiss the challenge to the Natural Resource Fund Act brought by the Opposition Chief Whip, Christopher Jones.

During the first calling of the case on Friday, several dates were set by Justice Singh for the submission of affidavits from the applicants and respondents even as he granted an application brought by Attorneys Kamal Ramkarran and Sase Gunraj for an extension to allow for Speaker of the National Assembly Manzoor Nadir to file his affidavit of defence.

That will need to be filed by May 23 after which Attorney Roysdale Forde, SC, who is representing Jones will file an affidavit in reply by June 13.

More submissions and replies by the applicants and respondents will be filed on July 6, July 27 and August 17 after which Counsel will be given an opportunity to make a 30-minute oral presentation on September 12.

No date has been set for a ruling.

Jones and Norris Witter, a trade unionist, have together approached the High Court to contest the validity of the Natural Resource Fund Act, which was passed by the National Assembly in December 2021.

The APNU+AFC Coalition Opposition had promised this legal challenge after failing to prevent a simple majority vote needed for passage of the law on the night of December 29.

Nandlall maintains that the case is an abuse of the process of the court, that the challenge is without basis and it should be dismissed.

Nandlall had previously argued that parliamentary proceedings are immune from inquiry by the Court.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall speaking to media operatives on Friday morning (Photo: News Room/May 13, 2022)

NO CONSULTATIONS

Among the grounds upon which the challenge is brought is that there was no consultation prior to the passage of the legislation.

But Nandlall contends that Parliament’s legislative power is not subject to any requirement that there must be consultation.

“Parliament has a law-making power and it is subject to one conditionality that the law must be consistent with the Constitution,” the Attorney General told the News Room in the corridors of the High Court on Friday.

In his affidavit, Nandlall contends that Article 13 which speaks to consultation is “aspirational and not justiciable.”

The AG said even if consultation is a basis upon which legislation can be challenged then the governing PPP/C will establish that it consulted widely while in opposition from 2015 to 2020 on a Natural Resource Fund law.

“We explained the elements of that law in our manifesto,” Nandlall said. The PPP/C 2020 elections manifesto is also part of the evidence submitted in this case.

Nandlall further stated that the manifesto upon which the PPP/C campaigned and won the seat of government saw hundreds of public meetings and nine national rallies.

“If that does not constitute consultation then I don’t know what is because it was at those meetings that every aspect of our manifesto was discussed and consulted upon.”

MACE WAS NOT IN PLACE

On the night of December 29, 2021, Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) protested in the House as the Bill was about to be voted on and passed and when their shouting and blowing of whistles did nothing to prevent the government from moving forward MP Annette Ferguson seized the Mace from the Chamber.

The Opposition has since argued that the law was not validly passed because the mace was not in place at the time of the vote.

“Well, the Parliament is subject to the Constitution…there is no conditionality placed on Parliament power to make law that relates to a law being in place or not being in place,” Nandlall reasoned.

He insists that Parliament’s law-making powers has nothing to do with a mace and as such the absence of one cannot affect those powers.

The AG says the Standing Order does not mention the need for a mace and as a consequence the argument is unmeritorious.

NO CONTRIBUTIONS TO BILL

The APNU+AFC Coalition had said that they hadn’t an opportunity to vote on the Bill as it was put to a vote while its MPs were out of their seats and the chamber.

Nandlall addressed this argument on Friday, saying it is a completely erroneous and fundamentally flawed statement of what transpired.

He recalled what was captured on video and broadcast for the world to see. “They prevented the Minister from speaking. They behaved in the most vulgar and riotous manner. They blew whistles, they chanted, they descended into the realm of the Parliament, they were shouting loudly, they grabbed the mace, they broke it in the process and then they walked out of the Parliament and then turn around now to say that the law was not properly passed because they were not given an opportunity to speak.”

Nandlall believes the APNU+AFC must take full responsibility for their actions since they refused to participate in the process.

He maintains that there is no basis for the case to be brought.

Since the passage of the Bill, the government has gone ahead to set up a Board for the Natural Resource Fund- Guyana’s oil-wealth fund.

Also, the government has withdrawn US$200 million (or GY $41.7 billion) from the fund as part of the first withdrawal since the law was passed.

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