Declaring that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has failed Guyana in ensuring that general elections were promptly held in accordance with the December 21st, 2018 motion of no confidence, former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran says it is now up to the GECOM Chair to uphold the constitution.
In his column which appears in today’s Sunday Stabroek (see page 7), Ramkarran described the CCJ’s July 12th, 2018 orders on the no-confidence motion case as timid and ineffectual.
He noted that in countries with a Westminster constitution there is a long-standing convention that when a no confidence motion is passed against the Government, elections are promptly held. He pointed out that in 2001 the Parliament accepted the recommendation of the Constitution Reform Commission to include article 106 in the Constitution to provide for elections in three months if a no confidence motion is passed. Ramkarran, who had played in an integral part in that constitutional reform process, said that Parliament must have taken into consideration that if there is no constitutional provision and a no confidence motion is passed, the Government might ignore it. He said that Parliament also provided for the resignation of the Cabinet adding that the obvious reason was to institutionalise the caretaker status of the Government by confining it to largely administrative functions until the elections are held. In the absence of the Cabinet no major decisions could be taken, he said.
“What the Parliament sought to prevent has in fact occurred. A no confidence motion was passed on December 21, no elections have been held in the three months and the Cabinet has not resigned. The timid, indecisive and ineffectual decision-making of the CCJ has brought elections no closer, has left the Guyanese people defenceless in the face of an egregious assault on their constitutional rights and has left open its decision to more than one interpretation. The Caribbean Court of Justice has failed Guyana”, Ramkarran declared.
He said that Gecom’s “readiness” has been used to create paralysis.
“This has been elevated to a constitutional principle. When Counsel for Gecom told the CCJ that Gecom cannot be ready until December 25 for elections, the President of the Court waved the Constitution of Guyana, indicating that it was at odds with what Counsel was advocating. The CCJ’s intent to protect constitutional propriety is not in doubt. But its reliance on the integrity of third world politicians to do what is right was deeply short-sighted and mistaken in the absence of coercive remedies. The decision’s failure to bring forth elections will leave a permanent scar on Guyana’s polity”, Ramkarran asserted.
He added “Only one person remains standing. And that is our own Iron Lady. Justice Claudette Singh has been given the wherewithal to move forward. If she expects the six Commissioners of Gecom to arrive at a consensus, she is wasting valuable time”, he said.
He noted that several matters were considered by Chief Justice, Roxane George, in the case brought by Christopher Ram and that the important decision to be made by Gecom is in relation to the house to house registration. He pointed out that the Chief Justice ordered that the house to house registration is lawful but that `the removal of the names of persons who are already on the list of registrants and who are not, or have not been, or are not registered in the current house to house registration exercise with a consequence of non-inclusion in the list of electors, would be unconstitutional, unless or disqualified pursuant to article 159(2) with the safeguards for removal of the names of persons pursuant to the National Registration Act, Chapter 19:08 to be strictly complied with.’
“The Chair of Gecom, in the face of this clear decision, has no cause for delay and no reason to await, week after painful week, a consensus among the Commissioners which will never occur”, Ramkarran argued.
He argued that the Chair should not allow Gecom to succumb to the argument that it must await the outcome of the appeal filed by the Attorney General against the decision of the Chief Justice in the Christopher Ram case.
“In the previous round of litigation, the Government ought to have implemented the decision of the Chief Justice, which was final, notwithstanding the appeals. Not having done so caused a delay of several months which still persists. The Chair of Gecom knows that the decision in the Christopher Ram case is the final decision of the court and must be observed, regardless of the appeal by the Attorney General.
“The decision of the Chief Justice can only mean one thing, namely, that Gecom should immediately prepare for elections on the 2018 list. The continuation of the current house to house registration under the current regime in place means that names are being unlawfully removed and the use of such a list for elections would be unlawful”, Ramkarran contended.
In its consequential orders on July 12, 2018 after upholding the validity of the motion of no confidence on June 18, 2018, the CCJ noted that there is clear guidance in Article 106 of Guyana’s Constitution on what should happen next. The Court stated, “upon the passage of a vote of no confidence, the Article requires the resignation of the Cabinet including the President. The Article goes on to state, among other things, that notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and that an election shall be held “within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine”.
The Court noted that the filing of the court proceedings in January,
challenging the validity of the no- confidence vote, effectively placed matters on pause. The Court reminded, however, that it had rendered its decision on 18 June 2019. As to the precise orders it should make, the CCJ cautioned, however, that it is not, “the role of the Court to establish a date on, or by which, the elections must be held”. Article 106 is clear and it should be followed. The CCJ did express the view that it is expected that the Government will continue as a caretaker for the affairs of the county but that in light of its caretaker role it should be restrained in the use of its legal authority.
President David Granger has said that Cabinet will not resign.
Ramkarran’s criticism of the CCJ is among the most serious in the years since it became Guyana’s top court.