Jul 09, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – This week, the citizens of Guyana have been treated to what will no doubt go down in our proud history as the Battle of the No-Confidence Motions. First up is the Leader of the Opposition, Joseph Harmon, who continued his, to be generous, ‘quixotic’ political strategy of giving notice to table two no-confidence motions against Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, and Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn. In no doubt cynical retaliation, the government, through Prime Minister, Mark Phillips, threatened its own No-Confidence Motion against Harmon.
The Constitution itself – no doubt due to the wisdom and foresight of its framers – only ever mentions the word “confidence” four times, only two of which deal with the issue of expression and consequences of an absence of confidence in a political leader in office.
In this regard, the government should know that the NCM against Harmon is a non-starter. It is only under 184(3) of the Constitution that the Opposition Leader can be removed via a petition and then a vote involving only the non-governmental (meaning opposition) members of the National Assembly. This means that the PM, as head of government business in Parliament, has no legal standing to bring an NCM against the Opposition Leader.
With regard to motions brought by Harmon, the Constitution does not contemplate a vote of confidence against a single minister – it is either a NCM is filed against the entire executive under 106(6), (7) of the Constitution, as successfully happened to Granger, or not at all. One would think by now that when it comes to NCMs, APNU+AFC should be expert students, at least over the past three years, considering the numerous drubbings on this matter they would have had in Parliament and in the courts.
We can suppose that the APNU+AFC is seeking to recreate what they achieved in 2012, as a combined but not coalition parliamentary majority when they used their 33-32 advantage (and the Speakership of Raphael Trotman) over the minority Donald Ramotar administration to first try to force the resignation of then Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee, and then, failing that, successfully banning him from speaking in Parliament.
That, however, was a circumstantial anomaly, one that was effectively corrected by both judicial and parliamentary decision. An NCM, whether ultimately successful or not, has to have an intrinsic consequence of passage, not a non-binding resolution, and the question of whether or not the National Assembly has the power to oust or restrain an MP/Minister for conduct outside of and not in breach of Parliamentary Standing Orders, was settled effectively when David Granger lost to then AG, Anil Nandlall, in a 2013 High Court decision in the Rohee matter, forcing Trotman to reverse his gag order against Rohee. As Trotman would write in his lengthy decision reversing that order:
“Because all executive power rests in the President, a person designated by him as a “Minister” is for all intents and purposes, his “representative.” It is my considered opinion that refusing the right of a Minister to address the House is tantamount to refusing the President the right to speak in the House, a very unconstitutional and untenable situation. The National Assembly can refuse to listen, but it cannot restrict the right of the President to speak, or that of his representatives, to speak and to fully participate in the business of the National Assembly.”
Harmon’s legal eagle and the man on the losing end of almost every constitutional challenge engaged in by the Coalition, Roysdale Forde, seems to have not consulted with Trotman in advising his leader on the sheer idiocy of the two motions.
Either way, as has been typical of his decision-making as Opposition Leader (granted under the nebulous and not too competent shadow of a David Granger in hiding), Harmon appears to have acted more on the basis of opportunistic theatricality and melodrama than from any position of either genuine integrity or even calculating political strategy. In the ultimate analysis, he cannot make the case that his motions are to be heard and debated and acted upon, considering the judicial and parliamentary precedent set in the Rohee matter, and then simultaneously argue that there is no way a similar motion can be brought against him. It is that same conveniently applied absurdly liberal and inane interpretation of the Constitution by Granger as President that in great part led to the continued embarrassment in court from 2018 to today and ultimately the loss of executive power in 2020. You either allow both sets of motions, or you allow neither.
As is, it simply seems that the Opposition is using the NCMs as an opportunity for hours of free advertising of its political rhetoric via obligatory parliamentary broadcast of speeches and the media coverage resulting from the ‘debates.’ Indeed, would-be leader of the PNC, Aubrey Norton, stated as much in a social media post yesterday:
“While the installed regime will be able to vote down no-confidence motions against their incompetent ministers, they will not be able to conceal the information that will come out of such a debate… Success should not be measured by the outcome of the vote but by its contribution to the raising of political consciousness and to the long term objective of the people getting rid of this installed regime.”
In this regard, the only real losers of this duel will be the people who elected these people as members of parliament in the first place. Hours spent on masturbatory speeches in the National Assembly first of all have a real economic cost to taxpayers, including expenditure on everything from meals to electricity to Wi-Fi to man-hours wasted. Moreover, there is tremendous wasted opportunity cost when it comes to moving forward on legislation that will have direct and lasting impact on the people of Guyana, whether we are speaking about marijuana decriminalisation, condominium ownership reform legislation, copyright and cultural industries enhancement, stewardship of our oil and gas industry, or the thing that has long been promised, Constitutional Reform. This country deserves better.
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