-gov’t urges stronger action after Trotman adjournment
Speaker Raphael Trotman prematurely adjourned yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly after opposition members refused to allow Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee to speak in keeping with a no confidence motion passed against him, even as government accused them of trying to save face through bullyism.
Opposition chants of “Rohee must go” and “Rohee can’t speak” and desk thumping greeted the minister as he stood for the second reading of the Firearms Amendment Bill 2012, shortly after Trotman ruled that he could not restrict Rohee’s participation in the Assembly, despite the passage of a no-confidence motion against him.
Trotman called for order but to no avail and he briefly adjourned the sitting to confer with the two chief whips—main opposition APNU’s Amna Ally and government MP Gail Teixeira-in his chambers in an attempt to settle the issue.
However, when the sitting was reconvened and Rohee again rose to speak, the APNU and AFC members once more began their collective chanting of “Rohee must go,” paying no attention to Trotman’s warning that he would invoke Standing Order 47, which allows the Speaker to adjourn the Assembly “in the case of grave disorder.”
“I believe that having given a ruling that ruling should be respected and adhered to and I ask that you proceed with the day’s business. And, so I ask that we proceed with the second reading of the Firearms Amendment Bill 2012,” he said.
But the opposition side again started chanting as Rohee rose to address the House, barely audible. “Mr Speaker I am seeking your protection,” he said at one point as Trotman kept admonishing the opposition members to maintain order in the House. Teixeira rose and shouted, “Mr Speaker, I call on you to call this House to order under Standing order 47.” The opposition members, however, upped the tempo.
“I am not going anywhere,” Rohee said to the opposition members as they kept shouting that he must go. As they continued, Trotman stood and adjourned the sitting to November 22, much to the chagrin of members of the government. They accused him of not controlling the House and of taking the milder of the two options available to him under Standing Order 47, which also allows the Speaker to suspend the members that are behaving unruly and have them escorted out of the Chamber.
Prior to the adjournment, Trotman announced his ruling that he had no power to restrict Rohee from participating in the National Assembly as Home Minister.
He disclosed that he had sought legal opinions from Senior Counsel Rex Mc Kay and attorney-at-law Stephen Fraser on the issue and they both advised that President Donald Ramotar was not legally obliged to adhere to the no-confidence motion.
Trotman said he asked specifically whether the President is obliged to act on a motion adopted by the House and whether Rohee can continue to perform his functions as Minister of Home Affairs in the National Assembly after a no-confidence motion was passed against him.
He said he received the “categorical and unequivocal” opinion that Ramotar “is not constitutionally or legally obliged” to adhere to the motion and that Rohee is not restricted from performing the duties of the office of Minister of Home Affairs.
As a result of the opinions and the fact that he could find no provisions within the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, the Constitution or the Laws of Guyana which restrict an elected-member from fulfilling his functions as minister, Trotman said he had to allow Rohee to participate.
“As uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it is for me, I must stand on the side of the rule of the law and find that in the absence of a specific resolution in this august House that specifically sanctions a member and directs that he be restrained from speaking in any one or more of his capacities, I am by law duty-bound to find that he must be allowed to speak,” Trotman ruled.
In making his decision, he noted the case of Sabaroche vs. the Speaker of the House of Dominica and another 1999 (3) which is included in the Law Reports of the Commonwealth, saying it was very instructive. He said in that case the House purported to suspend a member, Mr Sabaroche, for two sittings but the OECS Court of Appeal ruled that the suspension was unlawful—a conclusion which he came to in the Rohee case.
“However, one would have thought if a member realised that he does not enjoy the confidence of the House in which he serves, that he would consider resigning or requesting a reassignment to another ministry. In the absence of the observance of such hallowed practice and custom, the member remains in his position. This is both unfortunate and [a] regrettable development for a young nation, such as ours, seeking to etch its own brand of parliamentary customs and practices. In the circumstances and having regard to the foregoing, the Speaker of the National Assembly of Guyana, I so rule, has no power to restrict or deny the right of the member, the Honourable Clement J Rohee, Member of Parliament, from speaking or fulfilling his ministerial duties or responsibilities insofar as they relate to this House of Assembly,” Trotman said.
He indicated that members of the House may wish to consider whether a substantive motion on the subject of the Rohee’s participation in the House should be pursued or not. It was at that point that he invited Rohee to stand and speak, resulting in the opposition members erupting in unison with “Rohee must go” and “Rohee can’t speak.”
Following the adjournment, Opposition Leader David Granger said that the opposition is convinced that it has taken a principled position, and they are relying on the practice of the UK’s House of Commons. He said that the Speaker’s ruling ignores the ability of the National Assembly to resort to the ruling of the United Kingdom House of Commons, which allows the House to sanction a minister and for him to resign.
“We are insisting that for reasons of public security in this country,” he said. “We are not concerned with one incident, a single incident, we are concerned with a pattern of behaviour by the Minister of Home Affairs,” he added.
Nevertheless, Granger said Trotman’s ruling indicated that there are still avenues open to the opposition and he revealed that they will bring a motion to strengthen the resolution that was passed in July. “We are confident and we would continue to act in the interest of the public, we would continue to ensure that Mr Clement Rohee is not allowed to speak to this House as Minister of Home Affairs. We realise that we do not have the authority to ensure the revocation of his appointment… But we feel that Mr Clement Rohee is not competent to perform the functions of Minister of Home Affairs and in this House we are not going to allow him to do so,” Granger maintained.
He also said they are concerned with Rohee’s performance as Minister of Home Affairs and he said no one on either side of the House believes that public security is in good hands, which is the ultimate principle.
Meanwhile, Prime Mini-ster Sam Hinds, at a hurriedly called press conference in the Committee Room at the Public Buildings, said the government side while heartened by the Speaker’s ruling, had expected him to have acted “more strongly” and it was “dismayed at the step that he took eventually.”
“The members on the other side of the House who continued to interrupt and prevent the minister from carrying out his duties and prevented the meeting from continuing… those members should have been ordered out of the Assembly by the Speaker [because] in Standing Order 47 he has all the authority. They were clearly in breach and in contempt of his ruling and we believe that instead of adjourning the meeting altogether, he should have ordered them out. They should have been ordered out of the Assembly so that we could have continued with the business of the government and the country,” Hinds said.
Hinds expressed the view that at the next sitting should the opposition members disallow Rohee from speaking, Trotman should stick to his ruling and order the opposition members out of the Assembly so that the business of the country can continue.
And Attorney-General Anil Nandlall reminded that the government had maintained that there was no legal basis for the no-confidence motion to be brought against an individual minister as ministers are appointed by the President and in the case of Rohee he is also an elected member of the National Assembly.
“Therefore, there is no basis for them to pass a no-confidence motion in him and if they proceed with the no-confidence vote against him, it would be futile, it would be impotent,” he said, noting that the matter is still being addressed in the court following a government challenge to it.
He said the National Assembly is now defying the ruling of the Speaker, who exclusively has the right to maintain order in the House and if he makes a ruling it is conclusive and final on the matter. Nandlall also noted that tax payers’ monies are being wasted in Parliament by the opposition.
“As I said, they are an unruly horse. This is a parliament that is violating the Constitution.
It is a National Assembly that is violating all norms and all democratic tradition and we are going down the path of anarchy,” he said.
Teixeira, who also holds the portfolio of Adviser on Governance in the Office of President, expressed the view that the opposition is attempting to overthrow the Speaker by disallowing him to keep order, which is the number one job of any Speaker.
“I believe that the Speaker chose the milder of the two options [he has in Standing Order 47]. The Speaker has tremendous powers under Standing Order 47. He chose to do what he did and I believe that the opposition has showed utter disrespect for one of the highest forums in this country,” she said.
She said should the unruly opposition members be removed from Parliament, there would still be a quorum for the work of the House to continue. “The government is the government. We have our work to do.
We are duly-elected and democratically-elected and therefore we will carry out our legislative agenda as we see fit. We do not believe that it is correct to ask the government or the minister to stand down on that or any legislation he may wish to bring to satisfy the whims and fancy and bullyism of the opposition in this House,” she argued.
Teixeira said the genesis for the no confidence motion was the Linden shooting and all the evidence the opposition said it had against the minister “vanished” before the Linden Commission of Inquiry (COI) and its actions are now about “saving face.”