PPP Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandall, in a statement said “The framers of the Constitution went to great length in creating a clear divide between the National Assembly and the President. In the circumstances, while performing the office of President, the Prime Minister’s presence in the National Assembly is institutionally incongruous and constitutionally incestuous.”
Nandlall cited sections of Guyana’s Constitution which he claimed prohibit the Prime Minister from sitting in the National Assembly while performing duties of the president. Among those constitutional provisions, he said, was one that describes the Prime Minister and all other Vice Presidents as ministers.
He said it would amount to a conflict of functions because, after the National Budget is approved, the Appropriations Bill is passed and signed into law by the President. If the Prime Minister, performing the duties of President, continues to sit in the House Nandlall said he could end up assenting the Bill over which he has voted to pass. The coalition has a one-seat majority in the 65-seat House.
“It would be a contradiction in terms if the President was to participate in the passage of Bills in the National Assembly and then having the functional responsibility of assenting to those very Bills. That is precisely why the President has a power to withhold his assent from Bills. The President is therefore, neither a part of, nor a “rubber stamp” of the National Assembly,” said Nandlall, a former Attorney General.
Prime Minister Nagamootoo however argues that Guyana’s Constitution provides for the Prime Minister to be Leader of government’s business in the House, first Vice President and principal assistant to the President. He said the President, in or out of Guyana, could authorise the Prime Minister to carry out “certain functions, any functions” while keeping his appointment intact.
Nagamootoo maintains that he is an elected member of the National Assembly and he was not just a minister but the Prime Minister.
He has accused Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo of plotting to shutdown the government by blocking passage of the 2019 National Budget. Nagamootoo suggested that seeking to remove him from the House appeared to be a second alternative to the no-confidence motion which several government MPs have said the coalition would not lose.
“The deviousness is what we see playing out, that he would try to first divide members of this government and set us up against each other and then when you believe, as a throw-back, as a fall-back, you are now asking for the removal from the House of the Prime Minister because the intention is to defeat the budget….to lock down the government, to create a constitutional crisis and to breathe disaffection and rebellion among the people of this country,” Nagamootoo said.
Former Speaker of the National Assembly and Senior Counsel, Ralph Ramkarran has thrown his support behind the Prime Minister.
The former Speaker is quoted in the Guyana Chronicle today as stating “The article in the constitution requires a minister, if appointed, to vacate his seat. It does not require the prime minister, if similarly appointed, to do so.”
This is not the first time the Opposition has raised this argument and many legal luminaries have added their voices to the discourse quashing the Opposition’s contention.
In 2015, Kamal Ramkarran, who is now the President of the Guyana Bar Association, in a letter-to-the-editor titled, “When the President leaves Guyana he does not mysteriously morph into something else,” noted clearly that whether the President is in the country or not, he still remains the Head of State.
Ramkarran advanced the argument that any person, performing any function of the president, which is required to be performed in Guyana, does it on the President’s behalf and not of his/her own accord.
The Bar Association President had also reasoned that Article 51 of the Constitution which is being used by the Opposition to add credence to the argument, does not form a basis for that contention.
The Opposition has been pushing this argument strongly, in the wake of President David Granger’s illness, a move PM Nagamootoo has condemned as “unpatriotic” by the Opposition.
President Granger left for Cuba on December 4, 2018 for another round of chemotherapy. He was expected to return at the weekend, but its understood thyat the Guyanese leader is now expected back during “this week.”
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