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Announcements by the Hon. Dr. Barton Scotland, O.R., C.C.H., M.P., Speaker of the National Assembly, at the 112th Sitting of the National Assembly held on Thursday, 3rd January, 2018

Hits: 184 | Published Date: 03 Jan, 2019

Honourable Members, this is our first meeting for this new year 2019. I welcome you all back. I hope that you have come back feeling refreshed and I trust that you are fully prepared to treat with all issues which will confront us during this year. I repeat my call to you all Honourable Members to make every effort to be respectful in expressing your differences with one another and to hold in high regard, the dignity and decorum of this House.
Honourable Members you will recall that at the 111th Sitting of the National Assembly on 21st December, 2018 a Motion of No-confidence was moved in the House on behalf of the Opposition. After a number of hours of debate, the Motion was put and carried by a majority of one vote. The Motion was carried by a vote of 33 in favour and 32 against. One member of the Government side, at that time Honourable Charrandass Persaud withheld his support from the governing Coalition on the list of which he was a member and instead, voted with the Opposition.

After the Speaker had declared the Motion carried, he announced to the House that at the next sitting of the National Assembly which was scheduled for today 3rd  January, 2019, the House will meet to consider the consequences of the vote.
In saying that, it is to Article 106(7) of the Constitution that I had turned my attention after the Declaration of the vote. For ease of reference I set out here Honourable Members, that provision.
It reads as follows:
"notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and they shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election."

The provisions of the Constitution envisage discussions between the Government and the Opposition to find the most propitious manner in which effect can be given to the provisions of the Constitution. It is Honourable Members about such discussion that I, had hoped to speak to you today. No such discussion I am informed, has taken place as yet. On the 21st December, 2018, the Leaders of both sides of the House spoke of respect for one another and of the opportunity which the result of the vote offers both sides. It is my hope that talks will commence soon.
Honourable Members during the last week, I have received from diverse sources, information, both solicited and unsolicited, supported by Case law and Practice emanating from other jurisdictions which has raised doubts as to whether the No-confidence Motion was carried, and properly so, by the margin of vote.
The information which I have received raises two issues. The first of these issues included a claim supported by several cases that the requirement for the successful passing of a No-confidence Motion is a majority of the elected members of the National Assembly. That majority, it is contended, was to be formed by a mathematical half of the elected membership of the National Assembly which is 65 plus the vote of one other member. Such a formula would require a majority of 34 votes instead of 33 by which the No-confidence motion was declared carried. In furthering this argument they contend that Article 168 of the Constitution which provides that "...all questions proposed for decision in the National Assembly shall be determined by a majority of the votes of the members present and voting" is different from and does not include provisions relevant to a No-confidence motion since that is separately provided for in Article 106(6) of the Constitution.

The second issue and one of equally major importance for the National Assembly and its procedures concern the conduct of then Honourable Member Mr. Charrandass Persaud and the effect of that conduct on the vote in the No-confidence motion. It is contended that he was not a qualified elected member of the National Assembly and so entitled to vote in that he is a citizen of a foreign country and has taken active steps to so exercise that status. It is further contended that he being an elected member of the National Assembly through a list could not abandon that list and support another and still retain the status of an elected member.
These matters require urgent attention since the Motion of 21st December, 2018 was passed by a vote of 33 to 32 and the now former member of Parliament took part in the vote for the majority. -

That certain and finite answers to these questions are necessary goes without saying and it should be a concern of all Members that such answers are obtained.

On both issues The Honourable Attorney General who wrote to me and those who otherwise contacted me all invited me to revisit my Ruling of the 21st December, 2018 and to reverse it.

It is perhaps useful Honourable Members to let you know that the authority with which the Speaker is clothed enables him to revisit any Ruling which he has rendered and if in doing so he forms the opinion that the Ruling should not stand, he may reverse his Ruling. The only limitation on the action of the Speaker in this regard is the requirement that the Speaker must at all times act in full obedience to the Constitution which is the Supreme Law of Guyana. It is the Constitutionality of action which must at all times guide and direct the Speaker.

The Speaker's very wide authority to reverse his Ruling is not however one which he holds himself able to exercise without strong and compelling grounds, simply choosing one position in place of an earlier one.
It has been my preference and practice to endeavour to find resolution of any issue which may affect the procedures and practice of Parliament without third party intervention. I must tell you Honourable Members that the issues which we now face cause us to look outside of Parliament to find answers.
The issues as put and as understood by the Speaker in the first instance involve a  choice between the divergent interpretations of the provision of the Constitution  that is applicable to a No-confidence Motion.

In the second instance, the issue is one which concerns the conduct of the former Member of Parliament Mr. Charrandass Persaud and the effect of that conduct on the outcome of the vote on the 21st of December, 2018.

The issues over which many have expressed concern require final determination which will place the interpretation and import of the particular provisions of the Constitution beyond doubt.

I find it instructive that much of the information provided, relate to cases which saw the Courts of other jurisdictions giving guidance to both the Speaker and those National Assemblies concerning the constitutionality of conduct on particular issues.

Where, as in these instances before us, there are different even competing views of certain provisions of the Constitution as well as certain inter-related provisions of the Constitution all of which fall to be examined, the Speaker on this occasion and without more, declines the invitation to act in Reversal.

Full, final and complete settlement of these issues by a Court of competent jurisdiction will place beyond doubt any question which may exist and serve to give guidance to the Speaker and to the National Assembly for the future.
Honourable Members, in treating with this matter I have made every effort to present it to you as fully as I did, in the hope that it will assist in your understanding of the matter and enable our fellow citizens to understand the issues.

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