By Kiana Wilburg
To convene or not to convene the sitting of the National Assembly; this position currently before House Speaker, Raphael Trotman, has summoned interpretations of the parliamentary rules governing the power of the Speaker to do so, from his predecessors and even some political critics.
While some politicians are vigorously pursuing viable options to halt the current delay of the sitting of the National Assembly, former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran in his recent writings on his blog, (Conversation Tree) opined that every day that goes by without the sitting of the Parliament, amounts to a violation of the august body’s rules.
He had argued that the present Speaker is obliged to convene the sitting of the Parliament on October 11, the day after the parliamentary recess ended. He had said that this is supported by the Standing Orders.
Sase Narain who also served as Speaker of the House when the Peoples National Congress held the majority, had said that he provided Trotman with some advice in this regard. While he agreed in the main with Ramkarran’s position, he had insisted that once representation is made to the Speaker by a majority of the House, “he (Trotman) has the power to exercise discretion whether to call Parliament or not. This is undoubtedly supported by the Standing Orders.”
However, Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs, recently disclosed that he disagrees with the opinion of the two former Speakers, Ramkarran and Narain, who believe that Trotman has the power to convene the sitting of the National Assembly.
Isaacs premised his arguments on decisions taken by two other former speakers who believed that the Speaker has no power to convene a sitting of the National Assembly, unless the Assembly is adjourned to a specified date prior to going into recess.
The Clerk of the National Asembly said in a published letter in the media, that on October 14, he was asked by Trotman whether he has the power, in accordance with the Standing Orders, to convene the next Sitting of the National Assembly.
Isaacs said that he advised the Speaker that, in his opinion, he does not have that power and that he can only fix a date for a Sitting when the Assembly is adjourned to a specified date.
“Standing Order No. 8(2) is clear. If a date was fixed at the last Sitting before the Parliamentary recess, only then Mr. Trotman could have fixed a date for the next Sitting. When matters are not provided for in our rules, we refer to practice and precedents. The practice is that Sittings are requested by the Government,” Isaacs explained.
He then cited his two cases, that of Mr. Frank A. Narain, former Clerk of the National Assembly and the other involving Mr. Elwyn Viapree, former Clerk of the Legislature.
Isaacs explained that in Viapree’s case, in June, 1963, he was given instructions by former Speaker Rahman B. Gajraj to give notice to Members in good standing, that there will be a meeting of the Assembly on June, 12, 1963.
Isaacs reminded that Viapree referred the instruction of the Speaker to the then Attorney General, Mr. Fenton Ramsahoye for advice.
The then Attorney General said, that he did not share the opinion of the former Speaker and is of the opinion that this is a matter for the Government to decide, that is, the date and time of the next sitting.
The second precedent referred to by the Clerk of the House, was one that occurred in 1972. He said that on May,12,1972, the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, Opposition Leader, wrote the then Deputy Speaker, Mr. Derek Jagan, who was Acting Speaker in the absence of the Speaker, Mr. Sase Narine, who was out of the jurisdiction.
The late former Opposition leader had said that based on certain circumstances at the time, it would be in the best interest of the people, for the National Assembly to convene Parliament as early as possible for those matters to be discussed.
The Deputy Speaker (Acting Speaker) thereafter, wrote the then Clerk stating that he had given Dr. Jagan’s concerns serious consideration and believed that it is in the public interest that Parliament should meet to discuss urgent matters.
The then Clerk did not agree with the view of the Deputy Speaker, and said that the Speaker can give notice for the Assembly to meet only when the Assembly stands adjourned to a specified date, and not when it is adjourned.
In view of the foregoing, Isaacs reaffirmed to this publication that he stands by his opinion and made reference to statements made by Sir Michael Davies, Commonwealth Senior Parliamentary Staff Advisor to the National Assembly of Guyana.
“Standing Orders are for Clerks, not for Members. One reason Clerks are employed is to provide advice to Members on the Standing Orders and on the procedure of an Assembly.”
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