– says constitution reform is necessary
By Abena Rockcliffe
Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram, is questioning the legality of President Donald Ramotar’s rule following his prorogation of the Parliament on November10.
Ram, speaking on Thursday, last, at a symposium organized and hosted by the Working People’s Alliance at the National Library, said that much must be considered before coming to a conclusion that Ramotar’s prorogation of Parliament is indeed legal. .
Addressing approximately 150 people, Ram posited that if the prorogation is legal, then perhaps the illegality comes with Ramotar’s continued presidential leadership.
President Ramotar issued a proclamation proroguing the Parliament under Article 70 (1) of the Constitution which states: “The President may at any time prorogue the Parliament”.
Ram pointed out that Article 51 of the Constitution of Guyana defines Parliament as consisting of the President and the National Assembly.
On such basis, Ram said that, in effect, not only is the National Assembly prorogued, but so too is the President. “Now, if the National Assembly or any of its committees is unable to act during the period of prorogation, it is not illogical to ask why the same prohibition does not apply to the President,” said Ram.
Also, Ram told those who gathered in the conference room of the National library, that many articles of the constitution contradict each other. He said that the constitution is not harmonized and therefore needs to be revisited.
To support that assessment, Ram said that if the President had not intervened and allowed the debate on the Alliance For Change (AFC) sponsored No-Confidence Motion and the vote to proceed, the government would have been defeated and forced to resign and hold elections within three months.
He said that this action is powered by the constitution. This provision in Article 106 arose out of a 2000 amendment to the Constitution as part of the Herdmanston Constitutional Reform process.
“Whether the action to prorogue by the President is legal or otherwise revolves around what appears to be a conflict between Article 106 and Article 70 of the Constitution,” said Ram.
Ram queried whether Article 70 takes precedence over the amended Article 106, whether the president is supreme over the National Assembly and whether the power to prorogue exercised in the circumstances of a pending vote of no-confidence makes proper use of article 70.
Ram pointed out that the constitution should be interpreted not in the strict formalistic approach, but more liberally, and should be read as a whole to resolve any “inconsistency or ambiguity.”
He said it seems that carelessness may have caused the Constitutional Reform Commission and the National Assembly, when they inserted the amendment to Article 106 while leaving Article 70 intact.
They appeared to have introduced an alteration with the clear intention that the National Assembly could bring a motion of no-confidence against the government while leaving intact a provision that allows the President to vitiate the motion by proroguing the Assembly.
He said that the ambiguity needed to have been resolved particularly since by President Ramotar’s own admission, he prorogued Parliament because he knew his government would attract a negative vote.
In consideration of whether the president is supreme over the National Assembly or not, Ram pointed out another contradiction.
He quoted Article Nine of the Constitution which states, “Sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it through their representatives and the democratic organs established by or under this Constitution.”
Ram said that while Article Nine claims that sovereignty belongs to the People, the very Constitution allows a person who is merely deemed to be elected as President, not only more powers than the people but also domination over their representatives.
Ram pointed to the Preamble to the Constitution. “We, the Guyanese people”, it reads, yet the very constitution gives the President a wealth of powers that make him untouchable.
Ram said that the President can ignore Bills passed even unanimously by the National Assembly, as Jagdeo did; by one interpretation he can prorogue the National Assembly; and he can dissolve the Assembly even if they seek to impeach him.
There is also another Article that sets the President apart from the National Assembly and protects him from any sanction by the people, their representatives, or even the Courts, said Ram.
His reference is to what is referred to as the Immunities Article 180.
This Article provides that “the President is not answerable to any court of law for the performance of the functions of his office, or for any act done in the performance of those functions, and no proceedings whether criminal or civil, shall be instituted against him in his personal capacity in respect thereof either during his term of office or thereafter.”
Addressing whether the power to prorogue exercised in the circumstances of a pending vote of no-confidence proper use of article 70, Ram said that, that needs ‘little response” as it is quite obvious.
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