It is a misconception that the Constitution gives precedence to judges for appointment to Gecom Chairman

I have followed with more than passing interest the debate on the interpretation of Article 161 of the Constitution which deals with the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom). Article 161 (1) requires the Chairman to be full-time and mandates that he shall not engage in any other employment. The real debate however has been in relation to Article 161 (2) which deals exclusively with the Chairman and his appointment.

For brevity, let me state that 161 (2) sets out the classes of persons eligible for appointment as Chairman as: current or former judges, persons qualified to be appointed as a judge (which is seven years after admission to the Bar) or other fit and proper person. The persons shall be named in a list submitted to the President by the Leader of the Opposition, not unacceptable to the President. Article 161 (2) has a proviso which states that if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list, the President will appoint as Chairman a judge, former judge or one qualified to be a judge. Continue reading It is a misconception that the Constitution gives precedence to judges for appointment to Gecom Chairman

PPP/C’s Income Tax Act amendment is also unconstitutional

The Stabroek News of Friday January 6, 2017, reported that two parliamentary representatives of the PPP/C criticised but abstained from voting on an amendment to the Value-Added Tax giving the Commissioner General the right to prevent persons, through the Chief Immigration Officer, from leaving the country once they owed VAT.

And in the letter columns of the Stabroek News of January 7, former Attorney General, Mr Anil Nandlall returns to the issue with a reasoned argument whether the amendment violates the Constitution and is therefore void (‘Section 45 of the VAT Act is unconstitutional’).

This is interesting because in 1993 then PPP/C Finance Minister, Mr Asgar Ally inserted by way of an amendment to section 71 of the Income Tax Act a new provision that is arguably more dangerous than the APNU+AFC’s amended VAT provision. Taking Mr Nandlall’s argument, it means that the PPP/C’s amendment to the Income Tax Act is, at best, on the same tenuous constitutional ground as the APNU+AFC’s amendment to the VAT legislation.

The AG’s interpretation of the court’s decision was extremely self-serving

Attorney General Anil Nandlall has regaled the media with a verbose statement on the decision by acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in the case brought by opposition leader David Granger challenging the legality of the spending of $4.6 billion and programmes expressly disapproved by the National Assembly during the 2014 budget debate. Mr Granger sought several declarations that the expenditure was illegal, one order, and a conservatory order staying (stopping) all spending by the government on programmes disapproved or not authorized by the National Assembly until the matter was heard and determined by the court.

According to Mr Nandlall the only matter before the court was the application for a conservatory order and that the hearing and determination of the substantive action was for consideration later. On that basis, Mr Nandlall now argues that the interim conservatory order sought by Mr Granger was the only issue on which the court could properly pronounce.

That is an extremely self-serving and dishonest interpretation of the court’s decision. AG Nandlall did indeed successfully argue against a conservatory order which the court had no option but to accept. The action by Mr Granger’s lawyers was brought in December 2014 to halt certain expenditure for the year. Mr Nandlall is now gloating over that refusal.

Sadly, Mr Nandlall either did not understand the decision or is unfamiliar with the principle of law involved in the case.

There is no dispute of facts in this case, a point made by the court on more than one occasion in its written decision. Indeed it was the Minister of Finance who himself admitted to the spending when he brought to the National Assembly for approval the statement of excess for the $4.6 billion spent on programmes expressly disapproved earlier by the National Assembly.

Applying the constitutional provision to the undisputed facts the court found that “it is clear that the prohibition contained in article 217 (1) (b) of the Constitution was infringed.” That prohibition is against any withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund except as authorised by an Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President.

The principle that guided the court in arriving at its decision on both the interim question relating to the Conservatory Order and on the substantive issue of the spending is well established and reported and that is, when a matter of pure law is raised the court should deal with the matter finally and definitively.

Ostensibly Mr Nandlall wants the substantive matter to go through another round of meaningless arguments completely unmindful of the consequential and “complete waste of judicial time” hearing the “same arguments in law rehearsed all over again.”

Confronted with a finding by the Constitutional/Administrative Division of the High Court that he provided bad advice to the government resulting in the unconstitutional, and unlawful and unauthorised expenditure of $4.6 billion up to June 16, 2014, it would have been wise for Mr Nandlall to take heed of the aphorism that the first thing you should do when you are in a hole is to stop digging.

I believe that Mr Nandlall dreads having to confront the disclosure – which will come sooner rather than later – of the full extent of the unconstitutional and unauthorised expenditure between June 17 and December 31, 2014 which is likely to be considerably more than the $4.6 billion spent up to June 16.

His statement may also be an attempt to buy time for the government to spend billions of dollars during the period January to April 2015 using as the base the 2014 expenditure enlarged by unlawful expenditure.

Defying what is described as trite law, Mr Nandlall in this case argued that the doctrine of estoppel operates against the constitution and the law! Clearly not wishing to embarrass the office of Attorney General, the court graciously ignored the point.

Had such a mindless utterance derived from a junior attorney, he would have been laughed out of the court. That it should come from the country’s Attorney General is a measure of Guyana’s human resource tragedy.

As Attorney General, Mr Nandlall must be aware of the mechanisms available to him as the attorney for one of the parties. He should be availing himself of those rather than parading on the political stage.

Spending by government tests the limits of the Constitution

Even as Chief Justice (ag.) Ian Chang considers one major case alleging unauthorised public expenditure of over $4.6 billion between January and early June 2014 involving one article of the Constitution, another case is probably in the making over spending of further billions in violation of another article of the Constitution.

In the current action Leader of the Opposition Mr. David Granger seeks an order to halt unauthorised spending by the government and also for spending on programmes disapproved by the National Assembly to be stopped. The question has been raised why the action was not brought immediately when it became known in June last year that the Minister of Finance had authorised the spending of moneys expressly disapproved by the National Assembly. It is obvious that several billions more would have been spent since June 14 in similar circumstances.

The Attorney General Anil Nandlall, in defending the unauthorised spending by the Government has sought refuge in procedural points, and according to a press report claims that “the court cannot issue an order to stop all government spending not approved by the National Assembly as requested by APNU leader David Granger as there is no allegation that anyone’s fundamental rights have been breached.”
Continue reading Spending by government tests the limits of the Constitution

The Budget cuts case

The abrupt resignation earlier this month of Court of Appeal Justice Rabi Sukul which I addressed last week on this Blog continues to reverberate in the community, along with two other issues with implications for the judiciary. The first involved unusually swift justice dispensed in the case of baby-sitter who admitted to slapping her one year old charge, the daughter of a magistrate mother and a lawyer father. Without even asking for a Probation Officer’s report, the magistrate sentenced the legally unrepresented teenager to five years in prison. One section of the press had earlier reported the sentence as sixty months but that appears not to be correct.

The second issue raises the question whether a lawyer admitted to practise in the Courts of Guyana who is subsequently convicted in another jurisdiction should be allowed to return to practise in the Guyana Courts. Both in this and the Justice Sukul’s matter the (alleged) misconduct took place outside of Guyana.

There is a striking contrast between the considerable media attention and feedback to these issues and the silence of the major stakeholders over the challenges facing the judiciary. Even if this matter had involved a puisne judge it would have been serious enough to warrant attention. In this case a Court of Appeal Judge and the constitutional body the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) are involved but yet there is virtual silence from the head of the Bar, Minister of Legal Affairs and Legal Adviser to the Government.
Continue reading The Budget cuts case