We have an incredible Opposition in this country. It has been decided that the Minister of Finance acted outside of the constitution and the law when he restored sums not approved by the National Assembly in the Budget.
The Opposition did not ask the Court to determine whether the Minister of Finance acted outside of the law. It decided that he did and filed a Motion asking that he be referred to the Committee of Privileges. It decided that in its opinion, the Minister had acted outside of the law and his conduct was not covered by the Constitution.
Yet, this same opposition has the temerity to suggest that the President of Guyana should not decide that a Bill passed by the opposition parties has unconstitutional features. It wants the President to approach the Court to decide whether these features exist since in its opinion, it is for the Court to determine the constitutionality of legislation.
The Opposition wants to eat its cake and have it too. It does not want the President to pronounce an opinion on the constitutionality of a Bill but it has done this very deed in relation to the spending by the Minister of Finance. This is one of the reasons why the Opposition should not be taken seriously in this country. Its positions on a number of issues are more porous than sand.
The President is not obligated to assent to any Bill passed by the National Assembly regardless of whether the Bill was tabled by the government or by the Opposition. Indeed, former President Jagdeo refused to assent to a constitutional amendment that would have deemed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation a breach of a fundamental right under Guyana’s Constitution. So it is not unusual for a President to refuse to assent to his government’s own Bill.
Indeed this prerogative is seen as necessary to avoid mutiny within the Cabinet because there is no way that a Cabinet, not having full Executive Authority, can conspire behind the backs of the President to pass a Bill and expect that the President would be forced to sign his own death warrant.
The President does not need to establish the constitutionality of any Bill before him. He can refuse assent on the grounds that he does not agree with the Bill before him. That is reason enough to withhold assent.
There is no parliamentary supremacy in Guyana. As such the idea that the President is not conforming to the will of the legislature is nonsensical. He does not have to. The President can veto that Bill as can the President of the United States. But that veto can be overturned by a two thirds majority of the House, as is the case also in the United States.
The Opposition parties should not be tabling any Bills in the National Assembly except those relating to moral issues or matters of conscience, without the expressed consent of the Cabinet. This is an established Convention in the Westminster system and one that is premised on the separation of powers. Indeed the Court has already ruled on the issue of financial Bills which require the consent of Cabinet.
If the Opposition parties are allowed to pass any and every Bill as they please, they would effectively be determining the legislative agenda of the government. The determination of what laws are to be passed is an Executive function.
The approval or non-approval of these laws is the prerogative of the legislature. The Constitution makes provision for any member to introduce a Bill. But it also makes exceptions on what types of Bills cannot be introduced with the consent of Cabinet.
By convention also the Opposition is exempted from introducing certain Bills that do not find approval by Cabinet. The Opposition has no place in determining what laws are tabled, except as mentioned before by convention they may table Bills on matters of conscience. But when the government tables a Bill, the Opposition can refuse to give its approval to that Bill as they have done during this present parliament.
The job of the Opposition parties is not to attempt to run the country from the Opposition benches. That is for the government to do. The Opposition can refuse to lend its support to Bills and to criticize government within the legislature. They can also offer themselves through a democratic process as an alternative to the government. But that is hard work for the present Opposition parties.
It is easier for them to play make-believe and to pretend that they have the right by virtue of the one seat majority they hold to determine what policies should be pursued by the government and indeed which Bills the President should give assent to and which he should not. Dream on fellows! Dream on!
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