Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman will take no further action on the move to sanction Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee in the National Assembly until the court rules on a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Anil Nandlall—a decision the opposition is comfortable with.
Trotman yesterday wrote to Leader of the Government’s Business in the National Assembly, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and Leader of the Opposition David Granger communicating his decision.
In his letter, Trotman recalled that on November 22, he ruled that a motion submitted by Granger seeking to prevent Rohee from “speaking in the National Assembly as long as he is purporting to carry out the functions of Minister of Home Affairs as published in the Official Gazette” should be referred to the Privileges Committee.
“In my considered opinion, I believed that the matters contained therein appeared to affect the powers and privileges of the National Assembly. Ancillary to this, I ruled that the Bill in the name of the Hon Minister of Home Affairs, the Firearms (Amendment) Bill of 2012, would not proceed, and neither will any Bill or Motion presented in his name whilst the issue is under consideration by the Privileges Committee,” Trotman wrote.
“Subsequently, as expected, a maelstrom resulted and criticisms, concerns, and condemnations were widespread. On the 27th November, 2012, I was served with a copy of a Motion, No 94-CM of 2012; filed in the Constitutional Division of the High Court of the Supreme Court. This Motion seeks a number of Declarations and Orders that are designed to overturn my decision of the 22nd November, 2012,” he wrote.
The Speaker said he is firmly of the opinion that the National Assembly is the sole authority to develop and apply its own methods and procedures, and these shall not be overruled by any other authority. “The High Court, as one of the critical and established parts of the triumvirate that comprises the organs of State, has the duty, as guardian of our Constitution, to give interpretations in times of grave constitutional confusion. This role as interpreter is vastly different from the role of referee, or combatant, that some seem to want it to play,” he said.
Trotman noted that Motion No 94-CM of 2012 is the fourth in a series filed by Nandlall against the Leader of the Opposition and the Speaker. “This is most unhealthy and undesirable. The courts are being used as a referee in parliamentary disputes, and in effect, being hauled into an ongoing controversy between the National Assembly and the Executive branch of Government by having to decide a victor, and the other, loser. This could not be what the framers of our Constitution intended, and I daresay, neither is it what is expected of the High Court in its contemporary role,” he said.
The Speaker referred to Article 51 of the Constitution which he said underscores his belief that the National Assembly and the Executive branch were designed to be complementary, and not in confrontation with each other. He emphasized the phrase: “There shall be a Parliament of Guyana, which shall consist of the President and the National Assembly.
“If this is so, then the court’s function in this regard must as of necessity, be to safeguard the constitution and assist whenever the need arises in removing hindrances to the smooth functioning of the relationship between (the) Executive branch and the National Assembly. The High Court in my humble opinion is not to ‘take a side’ as it were for to do so would not preserve its role as guardian and interpreter. Courts should, in my humble opinion, make declarations only, and refrain from making Orders that seek to bind or compel the National Assembly to act in a certain way. Such Orders will be considered as non-binding,” the Speaker wrote.
He said he believes the issue regarding the right of Rohee to speak as Minister has brought to an “intersection point” the very issue of the roles, rights, responsibilities, and relationships of the three branches of Government – the Executive, the National Assembly, and the Judiciary. “This has congealed to create a ‘perfect storm’ in a constitutional sense. The foundations of our democracy and system of governance have been laid bare as a result. I believe that we can reinforce our democracy or destroy it by the manner in which we approach this issue. I further believe that the time has come for us to pause, diagnose the problem, and prescribe those remedies that will be in the long-term best interest of the State. We can view this situation as a crucible from which we all emerge renewed and enlightened, or steer the nation into a catastrophe,” Trotman said.
“Having weighed all the facts and circumstances that present themselves at this time, we all must support actions that cause the National Assembly to act responsibly, respectfully, and in recognition of the rule of law by asking the High Court to give interpretation on the matters before it,” he said.
Trotman referred to a case in Australia, when faced with a very similar situation, the Parliament there welcomed the guidance of the High Court and added that regrettably, there is no provision for the National Assembly to refer matters to the High Court for its interpretation. “This being so, I expect that Motion, No 94-CM of 2012, will be the best way of achieving this outcome,” he said.
“In the interim, I will take no further steps to disturb the status quo until after the hearing and determination of the Motion. I will also place before the Court my reasons for taking the action that I did,” he asserted.
“We must now await the interpretation of the High Court on these matters, and if necessary, those of the superior Courts. I say so with the expectation that the High Court, and superior Courts, if called upon, will appreciate the gravity and urgency of these matters and will act with dispatch in ensuring speedy interpretations of the Constitution of Guyana,” the Speaker said.
When contacted last evening, Granger said that it was not for him support or not support the decision of the Speaker. He said that under the Constitution, the Parliament is supreme as long as it behaves in accordance with the Constitution and ministers are accountable to Parliament. “The Speaker’s position is merely seeking to add greater clarity to this issue,” he said. “The decision has already been taken and we feel we will be vindicated.”
He had noted that the court did not have the jurisdiction to adjudicate on the internal matters of the National Assembly. “We don’t feel that we have breached the Constitution in any way,” he added. He said that APNU had supported the Speaker’s ruling that the matter be referred to the Privileges Committee of the National Assembly and was expecting to proceed along that line.
He, too, pointed out that four matters have been filed against the opposition and Speaker of the National Assembly this year and this seems to be aimed at paralyzing the work of the House. There should not be a situation like this, he said. “Parliament cannot be hindered in its ability to make the law.”
Granger said the Speaker’s decision is likely to give greater clarity to the authority of Parliament to make decisions and regulate its internal affairs and the accountability of ministers to the National Assembly. The court will vindicate these two principles, he said. “This is probably the most important constitutional matter that has come before the National Assembly this year,” Granger said.
Meantime, AFC leader Khemraj Ramjattan said that it is his view that when Trotman wrote of the status quo remaining, it means that Rohee is “gagged and will not be recognised because of the no-confidence motion.” He said he would support this until the determination of the matter which could be at the level of the highest court. He noted that the highest court would be the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Ramjattan also said that Parliament is the place where the matters ought to be decided and Article 172 of the Constitution ousts the jurisdiction of the High Court. He also pointed to Article 163 which gives the High Court jurisdiction in certain matters at the National Assembly such as the qualification of members. “It never said that the High Court has jurisdiction in determining matters of internal affairs of the National Assembly,” he said.
Ramjattan said every member is accountable to the National Assembly. “When it comes to parliamentary matters, all we have to do is vote against a minister in a no-confidence motion and it has to be carried,” he said.
Attempts to contact Nandlall last evening were futile.