The government has moved to abort the first meeting of the Committee of Privileges, which is tasked with charting a course for the National Assembly in the opposition attempts to gag Home Minister Clement Rohee.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall yesterday wrote the Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs, requesting that the meeting, scheduled for next Monday, be “either aborted permanently or adjourned indefinitely” due to legal proceedings. Nandlall also informed of Rohee’s impending resignation from the Committee—in order to prevent charges of bias—and the need to find a replacement.
“…a decision now for the Privileges Committee to consider the issues slated for consideration is one which is designed to circumvent, ignore and disregard the pronouncements of the Honour-able Chief Justice and one that is contaminated with ulterior motives,” Nandlall wrote, in reference to last week’s ruling by acting Chief Justice Ian Chang.
Justice Chang found that Rohee as an elected member has a right to speak in the National Assembly but appeared to leave the question of his speaking to Speaker Raphael Trotman and the procedures of the National Assembly. Trotman, who has noted that the ruling has made no binding orders on him or the House, has since announced his decision to address the situation at the Committee of Privileges, which he had earlier ruled in November.
In the interim, Rohee’s ability to participate in the National Assembly as Home Minister remains limited.
Trotman, who is also the Chairman of the Committee, told Stabroek News yesterday that Nandlall’s letter should have been directed to him, rather than the Clerk.
He pointed out that the Clerk is neither the Chairman of the Committee of Privileges nor is he the convener of it. He said that it boggles the mind that no reason was given for asking for the meeting to be put off. Trotman said that he was informed of the letter by the Clerk and he had not seen it himself.
“In the absence of any reason I can’t give a comment since there is nothing for me to consider,” he said.
Trotman added that any grievances could be addressed at Monday’s meeting of the Committee of Privileges but he noted that this meeting is meant to deal with procedural issues.
The PPP/C, in a statement, yesterday described Trotman’s decision to proceed with the matter at the level of the Committee of Privileges as being in defiance of the court’s pronouncement. “This we regard as a clear abdication by the Speaker of his responsibilities and as simply a conspiratorial mechanism to eventually gag Minister Rohee, permanently, from speaking,” it added.
The Committee is to determine whether Minister Rohee has violated any of the Standing Orders, customs, practices and or conventions of the National Assembly; and if the National Assembly possesses powers to sanction a Member of Parliament who is a Minister appointed by the President for failing to resign following a motion of no-confidence.
In his letter to Isaacs, Nandlall argued that the court proceedings are still ongoing and also pointed out the likely charges of bias resulting from Minister Rohee being a member of the Committee of Privileges.
On the former, Nandlall noted that Trotman himself had earlier indicated to Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, that the matters which are to be considered at the Privileges Committee meeting would not be dealt with until the proceedings pending in the High Court were heard and determined.
Justice Chang, in his ruling, struck out the majority of Nandlall’s motion to the court, retaining only his contention that prohibiting Rohee from speaking and not recognizing him for the purpose of presenting bills, motions etc “is unlawful, unconstitutional, ultra vires, in excess of and without jurisdiction, contrary to the rules of natural justice, arbitrary, capricious, null and void and of no legal effect.”
Justice Chang also threw out the key directive order sought by Nandlall that an order be made by the court directing Trotman to allow Rohee to perform his functions.
He added that while the proceedings were interlocutory, the court had found it fit and necessary to make “final and definitive” pronouncements on questions of law that may have the effect of making it unnecessary for the parties to proceed to a hearing of Nandlall’s substantive motion.
Nandlall, however, noted that Trotman announced his intention to appeal the court’s ruling and he added that he also intends to cross-appeal. “In short, from every conceivable perspective, the legal proceedings are far from conclusion and indeed are pending. No reason has been furnished by the Honourable Speaker for abnegating from his previously held aforesaid position,” he added.
He also took note of Rohee’s membership on the Committee, and he argued that both the process and its eventual outcome would be “infected with the fatal virus of bias” and “violative of the rules of natural justice,” and therefore unlawful. As a result, he said he advised Rohee to resign from the Committee and he suggested that a meeting of the Committee of Selection be summoned to consider a replacement for him.
Meanwhile, Nandlall also registered his concern over the lack of “any clear and definitive statement” by the opposition and Trotman that they would comply with the “clear and unambiguous pronouncements” of the court in relation to Rohee’s right to speak in the National Assembly. “There seems to be a marked reluctance to respect the court’s pronouncements,” he said.
Meanwhile, the PPP/C statement said that the refusal to recognise and respect the clear pronouncements of the Justice Chang is part of the increasing disregard by the parliamentary opposition and the Speaker for the constitution and the rule of law.
It said that despite the “clear and unambiguous pronouncements” of the court, both the opposition and the Speaker were showing their contempt for clear pronouncements emanating from the judiciary.
In what is seen as a nod to the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature, Justice Chang said in his ruling that even though the court has the jurisdiction to inquire into the conduct of the Speaker and the National Assembly to ascertain whether either had acted unconstitutionally or illegally, it is no part of the court’s function to give directions to the Speaker or the National Assembly as to the future conduct of the Assembly’s affairs.
He added that neither the constitutional right of Minister Rohee to represent nor that of his electors to be represented in the National Assembly is an enforceable constitutional right under Article 138 to 151 of the Constitution.
“Thus, even though the issue as to whether Mr Rohee as an elected member of the National Assembly has a constitutional right to speak in the National Assembly (irrespective of the expression of no confidence in him as Minister of Home Affairs) is justiciable, the right itself (assuming it exists) appears to be of such a nature as to be unenforceable by the court,” he added.