Today’s column looks at the implications and consequences of the prorogation of the Parliament as promulgated by President Ramotar. Given the widespread unfamiliarity with the prorogation power and its use, it is not surprising that the development has generated such wide ranging and at times contradictory views in the media. There are two such views which though peripheral, warrant some comment: one on the description of the Constitution and the other the spending authority of the Executive during prorogation.
Some persons take objections to the prorogation powers being attributed to what many describe as the Burnham Constitution. They are being over-sensitive. The reference is eponymous and descriptive, not political or pejorative. The Munroe Doctrine is not any less the Monroe Doctrine because John Kennedy applied it or Obama modified its practical application. Certain documents are so path-breaking that they take on the name and the character of the perceived author such as the “Kaldor Budget” of the PPP Government in 1962, even though Kaldor was not even a member of the Government, let alone the Minister of Finance.
Rather than defending the Constitution these writers and commentators should address their minds to the governance model underpinning the Constitution and offer their comments and recommendations for enhancement. This prorogation has strengthened the conviction, among supporters and critics of the Government that the model is not only not working but is counterproductive.
The other is the opinion expressed by Member of Parliament and of the Shadow Cabinet Mr. Ronald Bulkan who argues that the Executive has spending authority only up to December 31, 2014. Unfortunately Mr. Bulkan did not say whether he was expressing a view shared by the Shadow Attorney General Mr. Basil Williams and the Shadow Cabinet even as he suggested that any public expenditure after that date (presumably other than direct charges on the Consolidated Fund), would be unconstitutional and illegal.
If that view is shared by Mr. Williams, it begs the question whether Mr. Williams is in the process of seeking an interpretation by the High Court or whether he will have his legal challenge ready come December 31, 2014. If on the other hand, Mr. Bulkan’s opinion is entirely personal, it seems more than a little irresponsible for any MP to be saying to all public employees – teachers, nurses, police, etc. – that any payment to them for services rendered after December 31, 2014 will be unconstitutional and illegal until sanctioned by the National Assembly. This is time for political education and action, not unjustifiable scare mongering.
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One person has raised directly with me, and another through the Stabroek News blog, asking for clarification or explanation on how I arrived at the date of November 30, 2015 to which a re-elected PPP/C could spend money without going to the National Assembly.
I set out below a Table showing the Timeline based on my understanding of the Constitution of Guyana and the assumption that the PPP/C is re-elected, whether as a majority or on a plurality. It also assumes that the PPP/C will take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the increasingly exposed anti-democratic Constitution.
The President has done what many, I included, feared he would – but still hoped he would not do – prorogue the National Assembly. In so doing President Ramotar was exercising a power that then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham retained for himself under the Constitution of 1980.
The power to prorogue which Mr. Burnham as Prime Minister enjoyed under the Independence Constitution through the Governor General was intended for a different purpose than for which Mr. Ramotar used it. It was intended simply to close one session of the National Assembly. With each session of the National Assembly now firmly set by Standing Orders authorised under Article 165 of the Constitution, the prorogation should have become otiose and abolished. The use of it is clearly a retrograde step.
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Responding to the latest confirmation by the parliamentary opposition party the Alliance for Change (AFC) that it was proceeding with the vote of no confidence against his Government, President Donald Ramotar threatened to prorogue or dissolve the National Assembly. This threat has led to some discussion and even speculation on the Constitution of Guyana, the powers of the National Assembly and the role of the Standing Orders of the Assembly.
This e-column seeks to explore the options of dissolution, prorogation or a no-confidence resolution with the understanding that a fourth option – no action in regard to any of the other three – is now not available. This fourth option has to be ruled in the face of the repeated insistence by the AFC that it would not back down, the restatements by the APNU to unqualified support for the AFC’s motion and the various responses by the Ramotar Administration PPP/C.
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Clerk needs to explain why he is now excluding discretion of Speaker to convene the Assembly when the public interest requires itOctober 18th, 2014
The Stabroek News of October 16, 2014 reports the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Sherlock Isaacs as saying that it was up to the government to set a date for the next parliamentary sitting. The report suggests that the statement followed the failure of the Chief Whips for both the government and opposition to find consensus on a date.
The National Assembly is subject to the Standing Orders, the authority of which no one disputes and which was recognised by Chief Justice (ag.) Ian Chang in the celebrated “budget cuts” case. It may be useful therefore to refer to the Standing Order 8, 2 taken from the website of the National Assembly under the name of the same Mr. Isaacs.
Here is the text, including the heading:
Sitting convened at the discretion of the Speaker
(2) If, during an adjournment of the Assembly, it is represented to the Speaker by the Government, or the Speaker is of the opinion, that the public interest requires that the Assembly should meet on a day earlier than that to which it stands adjourned, the Speaker may give notice accordingly and the Assembly shall meet at the time stated in such notice. The Clerk shall as soon as possible inform each Member in writing, or telegram or by appropriate electronic means.
Mr. Isaacs needs to explain why he is now excluding the discretion of the Speaker to convene the Assembly when the public interest requires it. Now if a Motion of “No Confidence” is not a matter of public interest then Mr. Isaacs might like to tell us what is.
There are three further problems I have with Mr. Isaacs. The first is whether he believes in the separation of powers; the second is why he would consider himself the person who should pronounce on the operation of the Standing Orders and finally whether he can advise on the source of the authority of the Chief Whips to determine the convening of the National Assembly.