Drama in the House
Our system of governance seems to be slowing, unravelling under the pressure of the ‘new dispensation’ in our National Assembly. Faced with the unique situation (for Guyana) where the government did not have a majority in the House, rather than fostering consultation and cooperation between the government and the Opposition as most citizens had hoped, chaos appears to have been unleashed. This does not bode well for the future of our country.
The present contretemps appear to have been precipitated by calls from the combined Opposition for Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, to be dismissed in the wake of the Linden shootings. It was claimed by the Opposition that Rohee was directly involved in giving orders for the police to open fire on protestors.
While the appointed Commission of Inquiry has yet to pronounce definitively on the issue, it became evident during the testimonies that Minister Rohee did not actually give such orders and that the police might not have even fired the fatal shots.
Using its majority, the Opposition by that time had passed a no-confidence motion against Minister Rohee in the Legislature. But they took a different tact when the courts pointed out that only the President could dismiss a Minister: they broadened the rationale for censuring the Minister by claiming that his entire stewardship of his Ministry had been abysmal. They then prevented him from speaking as the Minister in the National Assembly by making so much noise that he could not be heard.
The drama then bifurcated. In the House, the Speaker ruled that the question of whether Mr. Rohee could speak as a Minister would be determined by the Committee of Privileges, of which he was Chairman.
In and of itself, this was a remarkable turn of events since firstly, legal advice sought by the Speaker had declared unequivocally that the Minister could not be ‘gagged’. Additionally the Speaker himself had declared that Minister Rohee had violated no privilege offered to him in the Assembly.
Out of the House, the Attorney General sought refuge under the Constitution by resorting to the Courts to pronounce on the question of the Minister’s right to speak in the House. It has been accepted by all that while the Assembly can regulate its own behaviour and that of its members through the Speaker’s interpretation of its Standing Orders, it cannot interpret such Orders in a manner that violates the strictures of the Constitution. The Courts, it is also accepted, are the arbiters of the Constitution.
Matters have now come to a head since the Chief Justice ruled that Minister Rohee has an absolute right to speak in the House since he was elected as a Representative of the people who voted for him to do just that. The Opposition, however, has countered that while Mr. Rohee might speak as a ‘representative’ i.e. as an ordinary member of the House, he cannot speak as a Minister. This however, appears to be a distinction in search of a difference.
On one hand, if Mr. Rohee must be allowed to speak in the House, it is not clear how he loses that right because he is a Minister. All the Chief Justice did was to show where Mr. Rohee’s right to speak emanated: from existentially being a ‘representative of the people’. The right was not in any way limited to that role.
On the other hand, if the Opposition accepts that only the President can fire his Ministers, it is also not clear how the same end can be allowed through this manoeuvre.
This latest twist has been the resignation of Mr. Rohee from the Committee of Privileges – but not to remove himself from being in the anomalous position where he would have been sitting in judgement of himself.
The Attorney General wrote the Clerk of the House that the meeting of the Committee of Privileges scheduled for tomorrow be “either aborted permanently or adjourned indefinitely” since it would be acting in contravention of a ‘pronouncements’ of the Courts.
Let good sense prevail.