Amidst concerns that cabinet had been meeting in violation of the January 31 decision of Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire SC, leader of the Alliance for Change (AFC) Raphael Trotman yesterday clarified that ministers have been meeting as a group.
“With respect to Cabinet, Ministers have been meeting in caucus to discuss matters as we try to better understand and give effect to the CJ’s ruling and await the Court of Appeal’s review,” Trotman said when contacted by Stabroek News.
Earlier at a party press conference, Alliance For Change, General Secretary Marlon Williams said that there have been meetings and said that it is for the ministers to say whether they were cabinet meetings.
“What I can assure you is that there have been meetings of government officials. Whether there has been a cabinet meeting per se, you would have to speak to members of the cabinet,” he said, when asked to respond to comments that the AFC is a party to the violation of the constitution given that several of its ministers continue to attend cabinet meetings.
In the case filed on behalf of chartered accountant Christopher Ram against Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and the Attorney General, Justice George-Wiltshire ruled that while there is nothing in the constitution that speaks to formal resignation she believed that it was automatically triggered by the passage of the motion. She stressed that even though Cabinet has resigned, the President remains the President and the ministers remain ministers to perform their duties and functions of office.
In an urgent fixed date application, Ram sought among other things, declarations from the court that the motion was lawfully passed and that the President and his Cabinet should immediately resign in keeping with Article 106(6) of the Constitution.
According to Article 106 (6) of the Constitution, “The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.
Stabroek News was reliably informed yesterday that ministers met as a collective as recently as Tuesday. Cabinet meetings are usually held every Tuesday.
Several government officials were adamant yesterday that the meetings cannot be considered cabinet meeting given the CJ’s ruling. “To hold cabinet meetings will mean that we are in violation of the court and we wouldn’t do that,” one official said while insisting that the standard procedure is not being followed. The official said that during the meetings held after January 31, the ministers have not engaged in the “regular cabinet business” and noted that some issues such as the approval of money for overseas travels for ministers is being handled directly by the Ministry of Finance.
This newspaper was directed to Minister of State, Joseph Harmon for an official comment. However, efforts to contact him via telephone were futile. This newspaper was subsequently told that he is abroad on official business.
The no-confidence motion, which was sponsored by Jagdeo, was declared passed by Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Barton Scotland following a vote in its favour by then APNU+AFC parliamentarian Charrandass Persaud on the night of December 21st. Government had initially accepted that the motion was properly carried but later backtracked, claiming the need for an absolute majority of 34 and not 33 votes from the 65-member National Assembly and that Persaud’s vote was invalid given his dual citizenship.
The Speaker, who refused an invitation by government to reconsider his ruling while indicating that it could seek redress in court, has made it clear that he will abide by the decisions and rulings of the court.
AG Basil Williams SC has appealed the decision in the Ram case as well as the decision in the case he filed challenging the 33-vote majority. The Court of Appeal is yet to set a date for the hearings of those matters.