Nov 28, 2012 News
– says Constitution is supreme to Parliament
Government has taken Speaker of the House, Raphael Trotman, and Opposition Leader, David Granger, to court over last week’s ruling that stopped Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee, from tabling any new Bills in the National Assembly
The Constitutional motion was filed by Attorney General (AG), Anil Nandlall and stemmed from last Thursday’s decision by Trotman, which also saw the Minister being ordered to appear before Parliament’s sanctioning body, the Committee of Privileges.
The court action would again raise the issue whether the local courts have jurisdiction over Parliament. Government is arguing that the Constitution is what had established the Parliament of Guyana and therefore has authority.
The motion to silence Minister Rohee was tabled by the Opposition Leader.
Government, in what has been emerging to become a major stand-off in the National Assembly between the ruling party and the opposition over Rohee, had immediately objected to the ruling of the Speaker, and described it as political and illegal.
President Donald Ramotar, over the weekend, had also blasted the Speaker.
Trotman, in his ruling Thursday, insisted that the House has the authority to regulate the conduct of its members.
The opposition, Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership For National Unity (APNU) in July, passed a no-confidence motion against the Minister, citing his handling of the security portfolio.
According to the court document filed by the AG and released to the media yesterday, government wants the Speaker’s ruling of sending the matter to the Committee of Privileges and of preventing Rohee from presenting any Bills, to be declared unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void, and of no effect.
The action also wants the court to declare that the Privileges Committee has no jurisdiction to deal with or determine the issue.
The AG asked for an order “setting aside, vacating, quashing or rescinding the decision and/or ruling” of Trotman.
The government is also looking for an order that would set aside, quash or rescind “any decision and/or ruling of the Privileges Committee, arising from the decision” on the grounds that the referral is without any legal base.
The court document also calls for an order directing the Speaker to permit Minister Rohee “to not only perform his functions as an elected member of the National Assembly, but also as an appointed Minister of the Government of Guyana…”
In listing the grounds for filing the court action, the AG said that Granger tabled a motion which sought “that since the National Assembly, by National Assembly Resolution No. 18 of 2012, has expressed no confidence in the performance of the Honourable Clement Rohee, MP, as Minister of Home Affairs, that he be prevented from speaking in the National Assembly, so long as he is purporting to carry out the functions of Minister of Home Affairs as published in the Official Gazette.”
Despite objections from the Government benches, the Speaker ruled that Granger’s motion was admissible and properly tabled.
“The ruling of the second named Respondent is pre-emptive in so far as it has put into immediate effect the Motion proposed by the first named Respondent…”
Nandlall also said that the ruling of the Speaker has pre-empted and will prejudice any findings of the Privileges Committee as it has the effect of sanctioning the Minister without due process being accorded to him.
The court documents noted that at no point in time was Minister Rohee offered an opportunity to speak during the debate on the motion to silence him.
“A member of the National Assembly can only be committed to the Privileges Committee for a violation of a Privilege; that is, an offence committed within the precincts of the Parliament. Minister Clement James Rohee, MP has never been told which privilege he has violated or what offence he has committed.”
Nandlall also contended that the ruling violates a number of constitutional provisions.
Government also maintained that the National Assembly is subordinate to the Constitution.
Constitution is Supreme
“The National Assembly is a creature of the Constitution and whatever sovereignty it enjoys and functional autonomy with which it is imbued are subject and subordinate to the supremacy of the Constitution and consequently the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty does not apply.”
The court document also said that the Joint Opposition in the National Assembly by virtue of their superior number cannot override, subvert, or abrogate the laws of the land, the Standing Orders, common law principles and the Constitution itself.
“A no-confidence Motion passed against a Minister or a member of the National Assembly in Guyana’s Constitutional construct has no binding effect or force and therefore, cannot constitute a violation of privilege or an offence for which a member can be committed to the Privileges Committee or for which a sanction can be imposed.”
Nandlall said that no power whatsoever exists under the Standing Orders, the laws of the land, or the Constitution to impose a prohibition on a member of the National Assembly from speaking or performing the functions which devolve upon that member, either as a member or as a Minister thereof.
The ruling last week, after a heated debate, was the first of its kind in the post-colonial period, Trotman had said last week.
This would not be the first time that the government has turned to the courts for relief in matters dealt with in the Parliament. Earlier this year, following the budget cuts by the opposition, government had filed court actions. While the court had ruled that the Opposition erred in slashing the budget of a number of state agencies like NCN and GINA, it also ruled that Parliamentary matters are Parliamentary matters.
The 10th Parliament is the first one in which the government has a one-seat minority of 32 seats following the November 28, 2011 elections. It represented the first time that the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had not been in control of Parliament since assuming continuous power 20 years ago, in 1992.
There has been criticism about how little work the National Assembly has done this year.
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