Speaker Trotman should be commended for an extraordinary ruling

Dear Editor,

The PPP is playing a game of  ‘Rohee Roulette‘ by using a minister in whom Parliament has voted no-confidence, as the single bullet in the chamber to shatter both our fledging parliamentary democracy and any prospects for government-opposition cooperation in the national interest.

On Thursday last, when a censure motion to prevent Rohee from introducing laws came up, I noted that we should not allow Parliament to die over one man. Gridlock is not in the national interest as we have to carry on with the work of parliament. We should also back off from the precipice and, in the spirit of Yuletide, allow our business community and our people to go about their lives without instability and fear.

I was heartened when Mr Clinton Urling, Chairman of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, chided our MPs for not focusing on the bigger picture of stability, investment and development and getting bogged down over this so-called “Rohee Affair.” He was reported as saying that for those wishing to invest in Guyana, the biggest risk is political instability and not crimes.

By sending the issue to the Privileges Committee, Speaker Raphael Trotman sought to avoid a shut-down of parliament. It was an extraordinary ruling for which Speaker Trotman ought to be commended. In this regard, the wanton and disrespectful attacks by the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General among others are deplorable.

How did the Speaker treat the issue? After a stormy session, marred by incessant howling and hissing from the government benches, Speaker Trotman ruled that the Committee of Privileges should deal with the issue, that is, whether the Assembly has the power to take away the privilege of an elected MP (including Rohee) to speak in Parliament.

I know that the issue must have challenged the Speaker’s intellect and libertarian convictions. But when he gave his ruling, I was very impressed by his bold and creative approach, which surely would make history in the practices of Commonwealth parliaments.

Rohee was not sanctioned or gagged as an elected MP. He could speak so long as he does not introduce legislation as Minister of Home Affairs because this could be contemptuous of the no-confidence decision which seeks his voluntary resignation or, alternatively, his removal from this portfolio by the President.

Why is the PPP so angry? The Speaker’s ruling had in fact taken the wind from their sails of using the Rohee tragedy to whip up sympathy for an embattled minority government. An example is the unsolicited tears from the acting Commissioner of Police!

In other words, the PPP was playing dead to see its funeral. It went to work over the budget cuts, painting itself as victim of an unconscionable opposition. Then it used both the Linden unrest and the Agricola protest to create geographic and ethnic fears.

In a scholarly speech on Thursday, AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan summed up why Rohee could not be allowed to present Bills in Parliament whilst the no-confidence motion was in effect, and being disobeyed. He reminded that Parliament could make and enforce its own decisions to discipline any member (Gajraj vs Jagan, 1963); parliament cannot be gagged by the sub judice rule not to debate a matter before the courts; and if parliament could censure the entire cabinet by a no-confidence vote, it could under the doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility, sanction a single minister.

When I spoke to the motion, I also touched on the concept of ‘Ministerial Responsibility,‘ and I wish to reproduce what I had said:

“We are not disputing the concept ‘he who hires fires or he who appoints disappoints.’ We are not treading on the jurisdiction of the President. We are saying that cabinet once appointed is collectively responsible to this Parliament and this Parliament has the power of censure over any member of the cabinet once that member is a member of this House. We are only doing what in our belief and strong view, un-rebuttable that is, are the powers of this House. We have the right to pass a no-confidence motion and it is for the President to direct, if he so wishes, that the Minister resign.

“There is the constitutional convention, whether or not we have a written constitution – and we seem to have a hybrid of written and unwritten constitution – that says this Parliament can move a vote of no confidence against the entire government. If the motion is passed by a majority then constitutionally there is a requirement of the President to have the cabinet resign and to call elections within three months or such other period as this Parliament shall dictate. So let us be clear about this. There is collective responsibility, but we have chosen at this time not to go there. We have chosen instead to deal with the concept of individual ministerial responsibility.

“We are saying that if a particular minister puts the government at risk then one does not seek to remove the entire government, one seeks to remove the minister. That is the basis of this doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility.”

I went on to say:

“This concept of individual ministerial responsibility has to be seen in context. It is not that we say Minister Rohee is at fault, but if the people feel that he is at fault then he has a moral obligation to tender his resignation in order to save the government from the wrath of the people. If the wrath of one community is replicated throughout Guyana, then it would become an indictment for the government and the call for the Minister to go to will be elevated to a call for the government to go.”

I gave the example of India, where Lal Bahadur Shastri (later to be Prime Minister) resigned as Railway Minister in 1956, after 144 passengers died in a train accident. Prime Minister Pandit Nehru stated he was accepting the resignation because it would set an example in constitutional propriety, and not because Shastri was in any way responsible for the accident.

In England, in 1982, Lord Carrington, the Home Secretary, tendered his resignation after Argentina invaded the Falklands. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said it was not the fault or mistake of her government; it was a departmental failure. It was a failure of someone who was in charge of protecting the security interest of England. Therefore, rather than placing the government at risk, rather than allowing the government to fall, she persuaded the Minister to resign, and he did.

Only a week ago, in Egypt (which is still in turmoil, and the new President assumed dictatorial powers) the Transport Minister resigned after a train crash.

I had stated that on July 18, Rohee was not in Linden; he did not pull the trigger. His failure to ensure that lethal force was not used, could be due to a misjudgment, or was a monumental folly. Even if it were a blunder, for which he feels he should not be held individually responsible, I believe he should do the right thing, and vacate office if he believes that some people were/are of the opinion that he failed to act or omitted to act appropriately.

I agree that Attorney General is speaking lots of “froth.“ His argument that the no-confidence vote is constitutionally impermissible is as nonsensical as his failed argument that the PPP must continue to enjoy a majority in parliamentary committees on the basis of his flawed concept of “proportionality.”

Yours faithfully,
Moses V Nagamootoo

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