Kaieteur News – On 2nd August 2020, the Presidential candidate of the People’s Progressive Party Civic, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, was declared the duly elected President of Guyana. On the same day, he took the Oath of Office and was installed as the President of Guyana in accordance with the Constitution.
Immediately following the oath and delivering remarks, he swore in a team of persons, including as Prime Minister, Mark Phillips; as Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo; as Attorney General, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, and as Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Ms. Gail Teixeira.
This was both a necessary and smart decision because it allowed for the immediate transition of key constitutional office holders, as well as for them to act as a transition team. In so doing, President Ali ensured that there was not going to be any vacuum in government which some smart Alec in the Opposition may be tempted to exploit.
There was no need for a transition team because the Opposition did not appoint anyone to be involved in this process. The APNU+AFC demitted office without any transitional arrangements, the first time this has happened since a change in government.
In 1992, the PPP/C had appointed Roger Luncheon to oversee the transition of the new government. In 2015, the PPP/C appointed a team of persons to work with the APNU+AFC on the transition arrangements.
The immediate appointment of these four persons in August 2020 would have created the impression that the four persons – the Prime Minister, VP Jagdeo, the Attorney General and the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs – represented a hierarchy of seniority within the government. This may have been the unintended effect of these four appointments made at the very ceremony at which the President took his Oath of Office.
And onto this day, some persons still believe that in terms of ranking, after Ali is Jagdeo. This column is intended to argue that this is far from the case. It also argues that Jagdeo is not the only or the most senior Vice President.
In terms of seniority in government, after the President is the Prime Minister. If there is a vacancy in the Presidency, the Prime Minister, not Jagdeo, assumes the Presidency. In fact, Jagdeo is debarred permanently from becoming President or Prime Minister because he has already served two elected terms.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the Cedric Richardson case observed that: The Constitution (Amendment) (No. 4) Act 2000, has altered Article 90 of the Constitution to disqualify three additional categories of persons from holding the position of President, (i) namely citizens by registration, (ii) citizens not resident in Guyana for seven years prior to the date of nomination and (iii) citizens who have already served two terms as President.
By majority vote, the CCJ held that the constitutional provision, which limited a President to two elected terms was constitutional. The Court therefore negated any attempt at a third term for Jagdeo. There was a dissenting opinion by one judge.
The effect of the majority ruling was that Jagdeo can never become President again and as a consequence cannot also become Prime Minister of Guyana. The Constitution makes it clear that a person who is not eligible to be appointed as President cannot be appointed as Prime Minister.
In the scheme of political hierarchy, Jagdeo is not second in line. And since he cannot ever become Prime Minister, he therefore is not even third in line because in the eventuality of Mark Phillips assuming or acting as President, someone else other than Jagdeo will have to be appointed as Prime Minister.
Nor is Jagdeo the only or the most senior Vice President. The Constitution allows for the President to appoint Vice Presidents. But the same Constitution also states that the person holding the office of Prime Minister shall, by virtue of holding that office, be a Vice President and shall have precedence over any other Vice President.
What this means is that it is automatic that the Prime Minister is a Vice President and the most senior Vice President. Prime Minister Mark Phillips is therefore senior to Jagdeo as a Vice President.
It is therefore unfortunate that the media continues to speak about Jagdeo as if he is the only Vice President. He is not. The Prime Minister is also a Vice President and the most senior Vice President.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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