‘Constitutional compliance cannot be a violation of privilege’
ATTORNEY –General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Anil Nandlall yesterday responded to Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Raphael Trotman’s ruling that Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh, should go before the Privileges Committee.And his contention is that the issue raised by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Shadow Finance Minister, Mr. Carl Greenidge’s Motion is a legal matter, rather than a question of privilege..
Said he: “I have reviewed the ruling of the Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly, dated 24th July 2014. In that ruling, the Speaker has found that the issue has raised sufficiently serious questions of privilege to be inquired into by the Committee of Privileges .
“While I am bound to be guided by the Speaker’s ruling, I do not consider myself restrained from expressing a view on the ruling, even a critical and outspoken one.
“The issue raised in this Motion is purely a legal one. It concerns the interpretation of several provisions of the Constitution, including Articles 217 and 218. Article 217 essentially provides when, and in what circumstances, monies can be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund.”
He noted that Article 218 provides for monies to be drawn from the Consolidated Fund outside of the strictures imposed by Article 217.
The AG said, “In short, Article 218 is but an exception to Article 217. In other words, Article 217 sets out the general rule and Article 218, the exceptions to that rule. That is precisely why the wording of Article 218 succeeds the words of Article 217.
‘What has been referred to the Privileges Committee by the Honourable Speaker is hardly a matter of privilege’ – Attorney-General and Minster of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall
“These very two Articles were examined by the Honourable Chief Justice in the Budget Cut case and interpreted along the same vein that I have articulated above. The Chief Justice did so in both his interim as well as his final rulings.
“The Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition and all the lawyers in the National Assembly for the Opposition participated in this case, either as parties or as attorneys at law. I presume therefore that they have read the two rulings. Indeed they have appealed.”
Nandlall stated too that, essentially, what has been referred to the Privileges Committee by the Honourable Speaker is hardly a matter of privilege.
He said, “Rather it is a matter of law and constitutional interpretation. The simple truth is, that, a Member of the House cannot act in conformity with the Constitution and at the same time violate a privilege.
“Constitutional supremacy, which is the cornerstone upon which our constitutional democracy rests, mandates that the glories of the common law , statute law , by laws , standing orders , rules and regulations and indeed administrative policies, must bend and bow to the provisions of the Constitution.
“Under the doctrine of separation of powers, the Court, and not the Privileges Committee of the National Assembly, or any other forum for that matter, is exclusively vested with the constitutional responsibility of interpreting and determining matters of law, whenever there is any controversy.”
To this end, the AG contends that the Speaker fell into error in determining that there was a serious question of privilege, and transmitting same to the Privileges Committee.
“The Privileges Committee is without jurisdiction to deal with the matter for several reasons,” he said.
Nandlall also pointed out that the persons who will constitute this Committee will come from the membership of political parties that have an interest to serve and have indeed said publicly that the Minister has violated the Constitution and the law; in short they have made up their minds.
“It will be impossible for the Minister to get a fair hearing at this Committee. The persons who will sit on this Committee are simply unqualified to determine the legal issues which will arise therein. Significantly, this very issue is sub-judice and is the subject of an appeal pending before the Guyana Court of Appeal and therefore ought not to be the subject of any consideration either in the National Assembly as a whole, or in any of its Committees,” he said.
Nandlall concluded that the Government, over the next few days, will be considering its options, a resort to a legal challenge of this ruling being one of them.
SOURCE: GUYANA CHRONICLE