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Sunday 8 December 2019
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Lawyers for govt, opposition argue before CCJ

Guyana no-confidence motion

Charrandass Persaud
Charrandass Persaud

FORMER Guyana MP Charrandas Persaud whose vote in December toppled the APNU/AFC government and sent shock waves throughout the South American country, was yesterday described as a “serial violator of the Constitution of Guyana.”

And also being accused of seeking to benefit from constitutional violations “in order to bring down the Government of Guyana” is leader of the Guyana’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) opposition Bharrat Jagdeo.

Taking aim against the two was Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, who represents Guyana’s Government in a consolidated challenge of that country’s appellate court ruling which invalidated December’s no-confidence vote against the ruling coalition government.

Yesterday, Courtenay began his submissions at the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port of Spain on behalf of Guyana’s Government and in his opening salvo, he targeted Persaud and the PPP’s Jagdeo.

He also emphasised that a vote of no-confidence did not automatically trigger a dissolution of the Parliament.

Before the CCJ are the appeals of Persaud, Jagdeo’s PPP and attorney Christopher Ram who have urged the judges to restore the validity of the no-confidence motion that toppled President David Granger’s ruling coalition government.

In his submissions, Courtenay said it was the long-established parliamentary tradition throughout the Commonwealth and elsewhere, although not explicitly stated in Guyana’s Constitution, that a vote of no confidence did not automatically mean the Government fell.

“In the absence of prescription in the Constitution, it is purely political decision for prime minister or president to decide what he/she is going to do (if a no-confidence vote is successful),” he said.

He said there was a difference between a vote of no-confidence and one of confidence (introduced by the Government) as provided for by Guyana’s constitution, the latter of which, he said, was the antidote to the former.

Earlier, attorneys for the appellants urged the court to consider the people of Guyana.

“Above all the players in the politics, citizens are entitled to the benefit of what the Constitution says if the no-confidence motion is valid to have elections in three months,” Persaud’s attorney Sanjeev Datadin urged the judges of Guyana’s final appellate court at the first day of hearing at the court on Henry Street, Port of Spain.

In December, Persaud, who was a member of Granger’s APNU-AFC coalition, sided with the opposition in the vote.

The motion was appealed and Guyana’s Court of Appeal, in a majority ruling, held that there was a need for an absolute majority of 34 votes for the no-confidence motion to be passed, and not the 33 votes it received in December.

By a majority of two to one, the appellate court judges ruled that the no-confidence motion was not passed.

In their application, Persaud and the PPP are seeking to restore the decision of the acting chief justice on January 31, which validated the no-confidence vote, a declaration that the vote was validly passed by a majority of all elected members of the National Assembly and that 33 votes constituted a majority of all elected members of the National Assembly.

They contend by section 106(6) of the Constitution of Guyana, the Cabinet, including the president, is required to resign if the Government is defeated on the vote of a majority of all elected members of the assembly on a vote of no confidence.

They say the assembly is comprised of 65 elected members and on December 21, last year, when 33 members voted in favour of the motion and 32 against, the speaker declared the motion passed.

This is being opposed by the Guyana government, which contends there was no valid vote.

Douglas Mendes, SC, who represents Jagdeo and the PPP, said there was no doubt that the vote was accepted, and there were no objections to it, but it was “only when someone came up with the smart idea it must be 34 and not 33 (to be valid)” did it become an issue.

“Everyone understood it was a motion under 106(6),” he said, in opposition to arguments by the Government. He also went into the mathematics to determine the number of members required for a majority, pointing out that the Constitution did not specify it such a motion needed to be passed by an absolute or simple majority.

“The only sensible meaning is the ordinary meaning of the greater number being the majority,” he said.

Datadin suggested that the logical position was that 33 was the majority of 65, adding, “ We’re in a position where an election should have been held.”

Responding to an argument that Persaud violated Article 156:3(a) and (b) (referred to as the crossing of the floor provision) of the Constitution which prohibits a member from voting against his or her party list, unless it was to the Speaker of the Assembly, Ram’s attorney Kamal Ramkarran, said to support the Government’s contention would turn the Parliament into a charade and make the ruling party the dictatorship of the list.

In their appeal, the appellants’ attorneys, in turn, emphasised that the Government was required to hold an election in three months, on or before March 22.

They also offered suggestions for the way forward if they are successful in their arguments.

“We are right now on borrowed time,” Mendes said, as he urged the court to uphold the appeals.

Persaud, meanwhile, is also challenging the contention that he was ineligible to vote because he held dual citizenship and Mendes argued that any challenge to the former parliamentarian’s validity as a member of the Assembly should have been brought in an election petition 28 days after he was elected into office.

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