One day after announcing that its four ministers who hold dual citizenship have resigned as parliamentarians, government yesterday informed that the resignations will not take immediate effect as certain constitutional steps have to first be followed.
Consequently, the four, Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge, Minister of State Joseph Harmon, Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin and Minister of Public Service Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, will remain ministers until the processes are completed, the Ministry of the Presidency (MoTP) said in a statement yesterday. It said that Greenidge, Harmon and Roopnaraine, who come from the APNU faction of the APNU+AFC coalition government, have also indicated that they will renounce their foreign citizenship.
President David Granger said that while he has accepted the resignation of the quartet, “their resignations will not take effect immediately as there are several processes which have to be applied,” the MoTP statement yesterday emphasised. Granger left Guyana on Tuesday for Cuba to continue his treatment for cancer.
“The Head of State made it clear that the replacement of Members of Parliament (MPs) can be done only when those MPs submit their letters of resignation to the Speaker of the National Assembly as is prescribed by the Constitution of Guyana,” the statement said, before outlining the processes regarding the removal of a member from the National Assembly in keeping with the Constitution.
Article 156 (1) (A) of the Constitution states that, “A member of the National Assembly shall vacate his or her seat therein – if he or she resigns it by writing under his or her own hand addressed to the Speaker or, if the Office of the Speaker if vacant or the Speaker is absent from Guyana, to the Deputy Speaker.”
Additionally, Article 156 (3) says that a member of the National Assembly elected on a List shall cease to be a member of the Assembly, if:
(a) He or she declares in writing to the Speaker or to the Representative of the List from which his or her name was extracted that he or she will not support the List from which his or her name was extracted;
(b) He or she declares in writing to the Speaker or to the Representative of the List from which his or her name was extracted, his or her support for another List;
(c) The Representative of the List from which his or her name was extracted indicates in writing to the Speaker that after meaningful consultation with the Party or Parties that make up the List that the Party or Parties have lost confidence in that member and the representative of the List issues a written notice of recall to that member and forwards a copy of that notice to the Speaker.
Additionally, the MoTP statement observed, Article 156 (4) (a) says, “The Speaker shall declare the seat of a Member of the National Assembly vacant where –
the Speaker receives a written declaration of the Member of the National Assembly as provided for in paragraph 3 (a) or (b); the Representative of the List issues a notice of recall as provided for in paragraph 3 (c).”
The statement said that the President reminded that the nomination of new members can be done only after the extraction of names from the National Top-Up list is approved by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). As such, the quartet will remain ministers until the aforementioned processes are completed, it added.
“The President, moreover, has not approved replacements at this time,” the statement said, without making any mention as to how long the completion of the processes outlined are expected to take.
Given the MoTP’s statement, there is a possibility that the four ministers will attend next Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly. Both the High Court and the Guyana Court of Appeal have ruled that as holders of foreign citizenship, they all were in violation of the National Assembly by being there. This is likely to spark concern if the quartet turns up for the sitting. Among the items on the agenda, is approval of additional money needed by GECOM to prepare for the holding of general elections. GECOM Chairman James Patterson, in a letter to the President, had pegged this amount at $3.5 billion.
The government had announced the resignation of the four ministers on Tuesday. In a brief statement, the MoTP said that the government is committed to the upholding of the Constitution of Guyana and the March 22, 2019 ruling of the Court of Appeal on the December 21, 2018 Motion of No Confidence, which was brought against it.
“In this regard, as of Monday, April 1, 2019, His Excellency David Granger, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, has received and accepted the resignation of all coalition Members of Parliament who are holders of dual citizenship. These members will not be returning to Parliament therefore, when it reconvenes on April 11, 2019,” the statement said.
Meantime, yesterday’s MoTP statement said that the three APNU minister will renounce their foreign citizenship. Harmon holds US citizenship while Greenidge and Roopnarine are British citizens.
Gaskin, who comes from the AFC faction of the coalition government, was born in the United Kingdom and arguments have been advanced that he did not pledge foreign allegiance and, as such, he could be an MP.
Gaskin, on Tuesday, told Stabroek News that his resignation was founded on the fact that the courts’ “interpretation” and “case studies” were very clear about the criteria for parliamentarians. He added that giving up one’s citizenship does not change the fact that “you are sitting in the National Assembly unlawfully.”
He added, “Also, I do not wish to renounce the citizenship of my birth in the same way that I would not wish to ever renounce my Guyanese citizenship. I can’t change who I am and I have no desire to do so.”
An AFC executive pointed out that the party had asked about dual citizenship before submitting names for ministerial portfolios and Parliament but Gaskin was given the legal go ahead because he was British from birth.
Both Harmon and Greenidge had previously indicated that they would await the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice before making a decision, while Roopnarine has indicated his willingness to give up his foreign citizenship which he has had since the 1950s.
Meanwhile, AFC leader and Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman, in an almost three-minute long video recording on Tuesday evening, said that the dual citizenship issue was discussed at length at Cabinet and it was decided some time ago that the four will have to resign.
He said it was the intention of the President and the Cabinet after “extensive” discussion that the rulings of the High Court and the Guyana Court of Appeal must be respected.
“We, of course, (were) not prepared in the initial stages but in deep discussion it was determined that this is what was expected of us and so (Tuesday’s) announcement really is an announcement of a decision that has been taken sometime before and I believe that the Guyanese people must rest assured that the government will do what is right under the law and will respect the rulings of all courts,” he stressed.
Trotman noted that the President is the keeper of all portfolios and, as such, distributes and delegates such to ministers in keeping with the Constitution and the existing agreement under the Cummingsburg Accord.
He said that in the interim, as has happened before when ministers have been unable to attend Cabinet either as a result of ill health or by being out of the country, other ministers are designated by the President to perform the functions of those ministers. “We are, as we speak, having other ministers performing the functions of the four ministers who have been affected and so Cabinet goes on. We held a Cabinet meeting today as per normal,” he said before pointing out that government recognises the human efforts of the quartet. He stressed that they will continue to function in “one capacity or another” and that this will be announced by the president later.
Trotman said that even though it is necessary to give effect to the courts’ rulings, the four “are not gone altogether from government, they are only resigning from the National Assembly and as a consequence, not being ministers, they cannot be members of Cabinet.”
Trotman said that though the announcement of the resignations by the MoTP hours earlier came as a surprise to some, “we (government) have been working on this for some time. We know that some people would of course be anxious as to what next. Please be assured that the government is in capable hands,” he said, while adding that Granger remains President and is taking decisions and overseeing the implementations of those decisions. “The people need to be assured that we will respect the rulings of the court and we expect others as well to respect the rulings of the court as they come,” he emphasised.
“There is a process ahead of us and in the meantime, government proceeds, Cabinet continues to meet, and the business of government goes on,” Trotman added.