Government has decided that if the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland does not respond favourably to its concerns about the validity of Friday’s passage of a no confidence motion against it, it will take the matter to court, well-placed sources said last evening.
Stabroek News was told that this was one of the decisions made by cabinet yesterday.
The cabinet met as scheduled to receive a report from the Special Legal Sub-Committee that was established on Monday to look at the legal implications of the vote, which was considered passed after government MP Charrandas Persaud voted `yes’. His dissenting vote meant that the motion was carried, 33 to 32. However, it was subsequently argued that 34 votes is the majority given the numerical make-up of the National Assembly and that this is what is required for the successfully passage of the no confidence motion.
In a press release last evening, the Ministry of the Presidency said that the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, Attorney General Basil Williams SC, updated Cabinet on the matter and presented a number of recommendations. “Cabinet discussed various options and took certain decisions on the way forward”, the release said.
While the release did not reveal the decisions made, Stabroek News was told last evening that the government has decided that it will formally write Scotland and is prepared to take the matter to court if needs be.
Sources indicated that while the legal team is still evaluating the process, the government believes that it has a strong case that can be tried successfully in a court of law.
One source explained that the option of going to court will be heavily dependent on how the Speaker responds to a letter from government. At the moment, Scotland is abroad but sources say that once he returns he will be furnished with the letter which will outline the government’s concerns.
“That (a court action) depends on the decision of the Speaker or the actions of the Speaker…Based on the response government (may) go to court,” one source stressed.
The DPI release said too that the Coalition Government assures its supporters and the public that it will pursue all “available options and act in the best interest of all Guyanese”. It added that Cabinet will provide subsequent updates as required.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon on Wednesday had indicated that the sub-committee was considering the argument advanced by attorney Nigel Hughes that 33 votes does not constitute a majority in the National Assembly.
Hughes, a prominent attorney is insisting that an absolute majority is half plus one. “Half of the National Assembly is 33 members not 32,” he said in a Facebook post on Monday.
In another post, he contended “There are sixty five members of the house. Mathematically one half of the house is 32.5 members. There is no such thing as a half member so half of the house is 33 members. This is because you have to round up to identify half of the house. For a no confidence motion to pass and be valid the motion has to enjoy more votes that one half of the full house i.e. 34 votes. The house voted 33:32. 33 is a rounding down of what constitutes half of the house. The motion consequently was not carried. But in classic Guyana style we have embarrassed ourselves again.”
Several in the legal fraternity have expressed agreement with his view and have hinted at the possibility of a constitutional application being filed to challenge the passage of the motion. However there are others who disagree strongly saying that if one was to take Hughes’ explanation seriously it would mean that the National Assembly will have 66 members and not 65.
Harmon had also stressed that it will be up to cabinet to decide when that information will be made public before reiterating that the committee will look at all the options and opinions on the subject matter. “Then we will draw our position as a view of all of them,” he had said.
The sub-committee comprises himself, Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan, Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman and Vice President Carl Greenidge.
Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall has expressed disagreement with Hughes’ view arguing that the word majority was not defined in the constitution and both the Prime Minister and the President have accepted the passage of the motion. He pointed out that this argument was accepted while he held the position of AG.
After citing dictionary definitions of the word, Nandlall, an opposition MP who voted last Friday, submitted that the practice has always been that thirty-three votes are sufficient to carry any motion or any bill put forward for passage in the National Assembly. It is for this reason that APNU and AFC, with their one seat majority of thirty-three, he said were able to cut the annual budgets in the tenth Parliament when the PPP/C had only thirty-two seats and it was by the same measure that they were able to vote down the legislative changes required for the AML/CFT laws, the Amaila Falls Project among others.
“More importantly, if thirty-three (33), is not a majority in a sixty-five (65) members National Assembly then APNU+AFC could not have lawfully formed the Government after the 2015 Elections. Neither could they have passed any bills or any budgets in that National Assembly,” he said before adding that all he mentioned previously was only possible because by the parliamentary practice, that is that thirty-three was always considered a majority in the sixty-five member National Assembly.