GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Monday March 25, 2019 – Guyana’s vice president Carl Greenidge says the coalition government has returned to business as usual, following Friday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal that the no-confidence motion against the government last December was not validly passed.
But the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic says it will be taking the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s highest court, and it will boycott sittings of the National Assembly until a ruling is handed down in the appeal.
By a 2-1 majority ruling, the court last Friday ruled that 34 votes, and not 33, were needed for the no-confidence motion filed by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo in the 65-member National Assembly to succeed. The government had turned to the Appeal Court after Acting Chief Justice Roxane George ruled in the High Court, on January 31, that the motion was valid and that regional and general elections should be held, in keeping with the Constitution, within 90 days of that December 21, 2018 vote in which then government backbencher Charrandass Persaud voted with the opposition.
The Court of Appeal said that 34 represents an absolute majority in the 65-seat National Assembly which means that contrary to the ruling of Speaker of the House, Dr Barton Scotland and the Acting Chief Justice, the no-confidence motion was not properly carried – a position which the David Granger administration, which was elected for a five-year term on May 11, 2015, had taken.
According to appellate judge Justice Dawn Gregory – who along with Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards ruled in the government’s favour – 34 votes were required after rounding up 32.5 (half of 65) to 33 and adding another vote to acquire an absolute majority of 34. She said using 33 votes was “flawed and untenable and is not the absolute majority”.
The Acting Chancellor agreed that the acting Chief Justice’s calculation of 33 votes was for a ‘simple majority’.
Quoting several authorities and case precedents, Cummings-Edwards said: “Applying the principles discussed…I am of the view that the majority, as found by the learned Chief Justice, applies to the case of a simple majority but in relation to the case of an absolute majority, the figure to be arrived at is that of 34 votes. I am of the view too that, applying a purposive approach and the words of the statute being read in their entire context the grammatical and ordinary meaning and the scheme of the act, the object of the act and the intention of the parliament that is consistent with the provisions of article 106(6)… the absolute majority in a 65 seat would lead to 34 votes. Accordingly, the appeal is allowed.”
However, the third judge on the panel, Justice of Appeal Rishi Persaud agreed with the acting Chief Justice’s ruling that the no-confidence motion was validly passed 33 to 32 votes.
Minister Greenidge, who is also performing the duties of Head of State in the absence of President Granger who travelled to Cuba to continue medical treatment for cancer, said the government is pleased with the decision, as it settles matters that have been discussed “ad nauseum” for several months and which led to some level of uncertainty in the society.
“The majority decision establishes that the coalition government is legal and lawful and constitutionally remains in office without hindrances or let,” he said, adding that the ruling “reaffirms and underscores that democracy in Guyana remains robust and strong and how we address complex and difficult problems in a mature manner”.
“It also underscores respect for the independence of the judiciary and the separation of power.”
Moving forward, Minister Greenidge said, while there is another leg of legal resort and while any party has the right to move in that direction, the government remains in place. He said while Parliament still lives, arrangements will be made for it to meet and conduct its business unhindered.
“The Parliament, acting on the decision of the courts, can meet as soon as it likes to address whatever it likes and to deal with Bills and Motions however it likes. That is the predictable business of Parliament. The President and Ministers can go about their business,” he assured.
To this end, he urged all Guyanese to also carry out their business as usual “with the full confidence that their safety and well-being are assured.”
But for Jagdeo, it is not business as usual.
“The General Secretary of the PPP wishes to place on record that the People’ s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C ) will not attend any sitting of the National Assembly, while the Appeal in the no-confidence motion is pending at the Caribbean Court of Justice,” he posted on his Facebook page yesterday.
In a video statement on Friday, he said “no strange mathematics can change the Constitution”, as he questioned the ruling that 34 and not 33 votes for the no-confidence motion to pass.