Speaker Raphael Trotman yesterday said that he acted in his own deliberate judgment when he adjourned Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly after opposition members chanted down Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, adding that only a “political neophyte” would suggest that he should have suspended the entire opposition.
While Trotman defended his actions yesterday, the AFC signaled that it would ensure that the minister is not heard in the parliament until the president hears the opposition, while the PPP said that the action is a threat to democracy.
Minutes after he adjourned the sitting under Standing Order 47 (9), amidst chants of “Rohee must go” and “Rohee can’t speak,” the government charged that Trotman should have suspended the unruly members, which is provided for under the Standing Order.
However, Trotman labelled this suggestion “absurd,” saying that had he done that, it would have been a “grave act of irresponsibility” on his part and one that would have promoted “serious tension.”
Asked by the Stabroek News to respond to the government’s charge, Trotman said that Standing Order 47 states that no more than one member ought to be named for misconduct and he pointed out that when you are faced with 30 or more members “you are facing a dilemma.”
Asking that the government allow him to function as Speaker and get on with the business of functioning as the government, Trotman pointed out that what was suggested was the same thing complained about in the past when the late president Cheddi Jagan was suspended for misconduct, while he was opposition leader.
He said that in effect what the government wanted him to do was to suspend the majority of the House and the leader of the majority, which is ridiculous. “No request was made for the sanction of anyone and I acted in my own deliberate judgment,” Trotman said.
Questioning whether the government thought he was ‘Hercules,’ the Speaker said he was not fazed by the criticisms levelled at him, since it was an “illogical request being made of me.” He stressed that the majority of the House was involved and it was not appropriate to single out any one member and he asked what criteria he would have used.
He noted that in the past when members were suspended it was for throwing down the Parliament mace in one instance and in another the member was cited for an indecent act. As a result, those were the precedents Trotman used when making his decision on Thursday.
He also cited a decision made by former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran. Trotman recalled an occasion in the past when the PNCR decided that the party’s parliamentarians would have used the paperweights on their desks to drown out a government minister and Ramkarran adjourned the sitting under Standing Order 47. When it was reconvened all the paperweights had been removed.
The Speaker also revealed that he always consulted Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs and he had advised that the entire opposition could not be suspended. An assessment of the situation must be made, the Speaker said, adding that it would have been “procedurally wrong” for him to take that route.
Describing the situation as a “hot potato political issue,” Trotman said he would not act irresponsibly and the situation did not warrant him going down that road.
Asked what would be his next move should the opposition drown out Rohee during the next sitting, Trotman said he did not want to anticipate anything but urged that the two sides speak to each other so that the country can get past this hurdle. He said he has significant confidence that the two sides can resolve the issue.
On Thursday, following the adjournment, Prime Sam Hinds said the government had expected Trotman 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… so that we could have continued with the business of the government and the country,” Hinds said.
Advisor on Governance Gail Teixeira had suggested that Trotman chose the milder of the two options available under 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.
The opposition took the route of drowning out Rohee after Trotman had ruled that he had no power to restrict Rohee from participating in the National Assembly as Home Minister after a no confidence motion was passed against him.
Trotman 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.
“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 had ruled.
While members of the main opposition APNU refused to address the issue at a news conference yesterday morning, the AFC announced that it remains “firmly committed” to the no-confidence vote against the minister.
It said while it accepts that Parliament cannot fire Rohee, a majority of votes in Parliament should be enough to persuade President Ramotar to act. However, it added that his rejection of the will of the majority is an issue of grave concern. “In our view, if the president cannot hear us, we will make sure that his disgraced minister does, as we intend to drown out his voice every time he essays to speak with us,” it said in a statement yesterday, signaling that it would continue the action to prevent the minister’s participation in parliament. Opposition leader David Granger on Thursday said that the opposition would continue to act in the interest of the public and ensure that Rohee is not allowed to speak to the House as Minister of Home Affairs.
The AFC yesterday applauded Trotman for observing how poorly the country’s fledgling democracy is served by a minister who refuses to resign in defiance of a convention to do so. It said that like the rest of the opposition, AFC believes that Rohee has failed as Minister of Home Affairs to exercise general supervision and control over the security forces, resulting in loss of lives over many years at the hands of bandits and by bullets from trigger-happy policemen.
“Rohee has to take responsibility, and resign,” it said, adding, “Whilst Speaker Trotman ruled that he cannot prevent Rohee from speaking, we reserve our right not to hear him.” With the president failing to pay heed to the motion and the government’s move to the court to challenge it, it lamented the “mockery of Parliament,” saying it is obvious that the president and his government have set the stage of collision with the National Assembly and are simulating a constitutional crisis. “…Even with their wings clipped, the PPP/C still want to control Parliament. They insisted that they were in the driver’s seat on the basis of a warped concept of “proportionality,” which foolishness was over-ruled by our courts,” the AFC contended.
The party also said that it is dismayed that Rohee continues to give “a stiff back” to the majority of Members of the Parliament who have lost confidence in him as Minister of Home Affairs. “The AFC would not sit mutely in Parliament and allow Rohee to arrogantly look us in the face and say that the people’s votes don’t count, and that he could flout the decision of the majority,” it declared.
The PPP also said that the opposition’s stated plans to continue to obstruct Rohee in the National Assembly sets “dangerous precedence,” while arguing that the “unwarranted attacks” against him constituted an “assault” on democracy by the opposition.
Like government speakers after Thursday’s adjournment, the party in a statement yesterday took Trotman to task for suggesting that the minister “consider resigning or request a re-assignment to another ministry,” despite basing his ruling on legal advice that Rohee must be allowed to participate in Parliament and cannot be removed. “Instead of him trying to perpetuate a wrong, the Speaker should have condemned his opposition colleagues for failing to accept the principles and procedures of the Assembly and the legal advice tendered by Senior Counsel Rex McKay,” it said.
The party reiterated that while the opposition had sought to make a case for Rohee’s culpability for the deaths of three protesters in Linden on July 18, when it was time to produce the evidence before the Linden Commission of Inquiry, it could not do so.
As a result, the PPP said Guyanese and the international community “must all be on alert” at the efforts by leaders in the opposition to create instability and destroy the country’s fledgling democracy.
Following the adjournment on Thursday, Granger had said that the opposition is convinced that it has taken a principled position, and was relying on the practice of the UK’s House of Commons, which allows the House to sanction a minister and for him to resign. “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.