Speaker Raphael Trotman has said acting Chief Justice Ian Chang’s ruling on the move to gag Home Minister Clement Rohee is not binding on him or the National Assembly, but he will file an appeal to further clarify the court’s authority over the legislature.
Trotman yesterday also reiterated that the situation will be addressed at the Committee of Privileges—as he had ruled on November 22, last year—and he was hopeful that it would be dealt with quickly, as the protraction of the matter has implications for the nation’s security.
Last Friday 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 the Speaker of the National Assembly and the procedures of the House. The ruling has caused confusion as both the government and the opposition have claimed legal victory and Trotman himself had said he would be seeking legal advice on its implications.
Trotman yesterday said at a press conference at the Parliament Office that the ruling does not make any order binding or compelling him on “anything or any matter whatsoever.”
“So anyone who has run away with the view that the Speaker is bound by, or that there is any order made compelling or directing, that is an error,” he declared.
He added that the opinions by Justice Chang are respected, while noting that he had rightly refrained from making any order. However, he said the vexed issue of jurisdiction as it relates to the powers of the High Court when it comes to the National Assembly appears not to have been settled and in his opinion was avoided.
“I will be instructing the lawyers representing the Speaker to file an appeal to the Court of Appeal to seek further clarifications only on the issue of the powers and authority of the High Court vis-à-vis the National Assembly,” he said, as a result.
Trotman, however, noted his decision to refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges was not interfered with by the Chief Justice. He added that next Monday he would be convening the Committee of Privileges—which he chairs—to discuss three issues: whether as a consequence of a resolution of the House, Minister Rohee has violated any of the Standing Orders, customs, practices and or conventions of the National Assembly; to determine what, if any, are the powers of the National Assembly to sanction a Member of Parliament who is a Minister appointed by the President for failing to resign following a motion of no-confidence; and presuming that it is found that the Assembly does have the power to sanction a Minister, what sanctions, including preventing a Minister from speaking, are available to the National Assembly.
He, however, made it clear that Rohee is not the subject of any proceeding before the Committee, of which he is also member. He said he is expected to appear and be part of the Committee’s work and participate if he so desires.
“He is not brought up on any indictment, or any charge or any allegation made against him because as I had indicated… the [no-confidence] motion brought by [Opposition Leader David] Granger in July called on the President to do something, it never demanded or requested Mr Rohee to do anything,” he said.
He also said that the final decision as to the minister’s full participation in the National Assembly would be made at a future date after the Committee of Privileges had met and he is mindful that the matter has to be determined expeditiously.
While he chairs the Committee, Trotman said he has no voting rights but has the right to share his views and opinions, which he will give during the deliberation of the matter.
Trotman explained that at the end of the Committee’s work, the National Assembly would have to either accept or reject the report it submits and he added that all members need to be mature and look at the issue comprehensively and find a solution to the impasse.
Meanwhile, Trotman noted that in light of the fact that Rohee heads one of the more important ministries in the country, the protracted nature of the matter will affect the entire nation.
“It is security, the way criminals view us, what they feel they could get away with. And no nation should have a situation where its minister of national security is under the shadow or cloud of suspicion or does not enjoy full confidence because it gives fodder or ammunition… to those who are criminally-minded to want to feel that they can now take matters into their own hand because the law makers are divided…,” Trotman said.
He was hopeful that by the time the National Assembly sits again—on January 25—the issue would have been resolved.
During the period of the matter being before the Committee, Trotman urged that all members of the Assembly “display the utmost maturity and rectitude and to refrain from engaging in vitriol and the spreading of confusion and misrepresentations and I am imploring members of the press also not to indulge in sensational journalism….”
Trotman warned that the democracy that is cherished by all is under threat and everyone should play their part in preserving and protecting it. “We have to find a solution; that is my way of looking at it. There is no problem that is without a solution anywhere. It is sometimes where you look, you may be looking in the wrong places, adopting the wrong methods but we have to find a solution to this because, as I said, our entire democracy rests on it and there is a wide situation of our national security architecture being affected,” he said.
Trotman added that Rohee remains free to speak on any other issue as an elected member of the House but was prevented from proceeding with the Firearms Amendment Bill. The Speaker pointed out that Rohee came close to speaking during the last sitting when his name was entered on the list of speakers to address Opposition Leader David Granger’s motion on extrajudicial killings and had the motion gone ahead he would have been allowed to speak.
Meanwhile, acknowledging Justice Chang’s ruling Trotman said he is still to receive all the guidance that he thought would have flowed from the matter.
“I had hoped to have more light shed or shone on the issue of the right of a minister as against those of an ordinary member,” Trotman said.
But he made it clear that the ruling cannot be dismissed and should not be taken lightly and should be respected and it would have to be one of the documents that would have to be dealt with at the Committee of Privileges since it has persuasive weight and authority.
But the Speaker took issue with what he described as “misrepresentations” by Attorney-General Anil Nandlall before the court.
He said that Nandlall misled the Chief Justice when he represented to the court that the minister was disallowed from presenting any bills, motions or making any other presentations to the House, which he said was “a blatant untruth.”
Another misrepresentation, according to the Speaker, was that Rohee was disallowed from speaking at the debate on November 22, 2012 that took place before he referred the matter to the Committee of Privileges.
According to Trotman, at no time during the debate did the minister attempt to speak or indicated he wanted to speak and to say to the court that he was disallowed “is a gross inaccuracy to be peddled, or to be presented to the court and for the court to accept it.”
“Both of these seemed to be accepted as fact by the learned Chief Justice because he was led to believe so by the Honourable Attorney General and this is very, very troubling to me because it was reflected in the decision of the court,” Trotman said.
Asked why his lawyer did not point out the misrepresentations to the Court, the Speaker said the misrepresentations should not have been made in the first place as the Attorney General of any country is considered to be the head of the bar and must be very careful about statements and pronouncements he makes. He said that it is a matter he intends to raise with Nandlall, as he is not saying it was mischievous but he has a duty to correct it.
Justice Chang’s ruling came following a challenge by Nandlall of Speaker Trotman’s decision last November, limiting Rohee’s participation in Parliament pending the findings of the Committee of Privileges on the enforceability of a motion in the name of Granger, seeking to have Rohee gagged in the National Assembly.
Trotman, who had all times made it clear that Rohee could have spoken in the Assembly as an elected member but not to represent the Ministry of Home Affairs in any way, had said he would take no further action on the move to sanction the minister until the courts ruled on Nandlall’s action.