Apart from recognizing its ‘interim’ status, the Government acknowledges no other consequence of the no confidence motion passed in the National Assembly on December 21, after it members challenged the Opposition PPP to ‘bring it on.’ Attorney General Basil Williams said at a symposium at the Marriot Hotel sponsored by AmCham during last week said that Guyana is not geared for a no confidence motion. He also repeated at that event what he has said, in and out of court, that the Caribbean Court of Justice has not fixed a date for elections, implying that such a date is at large and will be fixed when house to house registration is complete. The Attorney General plucked out of the context of Article 106 that the Government shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election and appeared to indicate that this applies to whenever “the election” is held. In fact, “the election” refers to “an election within three months” which shall be held after the Government’s defeat on a no confidence motion.
To this melee of confusion, the President says that he doesn’t fix a date for, and has nothing to do with, elections; that it is Gecom’s responsibility to fix the date and to manage the elections. But the President then summoned the constitutionally independent body to his office for discussions in the absence of the Leader of the Opposition and then, after the meeting with Gecom on August 15, makes a statement reeking of intimidation: “We will accept any formula or any rule or any decision which satisfies the requirement of a credible election.” The President, the Attorney General and other Government spokespersons have said repeatedly that only a house to house registration will produce a credible list of voters. So what will the President do if in his view the decision of Gecom does not satisfy the requirement of a credible election, that is to say, does not uphold its decision to continue and complete the house to house registration to create a new voters’ list?
And what is Gecom’s position? Members of the Commission nominated by the Government have strongly advocated house to house registration, ignoring any constitutional prescriptions resulting from the no confidence motion. Notwithstanding the decision of the CCJ on June 18, the house to house registration was implemented and has continued, even though it will not produce a voters’ list until far into 2020. There is no evidence that Gecom has reflected on the CCJ’s statement that: “….Gecom too must abide by the provisions of the Constitution.”
With a distinguished former Judge of the Court of Appeal at the helm, who has said that she will be guided by law, and who is fully cognizant of the fact that not only consequential orders of the CCJ are binding, but so also are the guiding principles contained in its decision, it is hoped and expected that any decision by Gecom will observe the actual ruling of the CCJ. The consequences of Gecom doing otherwise would be catastrophic for our delicate constitutional balance, being maintained at the moment by our fingertips on its ledge.
The obfuscatory din that surrounds the decision of the CCJ has intimidated into silence large swaths of our citizenry. A crescendo of criticism was unleashed against the PPP/C Government in 2014 when the Parliament was prorogued in accordance with the Constitution. Those voices are now silent and civil society appears to have little interest in the actual violation of the Constitution by the failure of the Cabinet to resign and the potential violation likely to occur having regard to the Government’s pronouncements. Those agencies, bodies and prominent individuals that have responsibilities in our society bear need to speak out. Unless they do so now, they may find that their voices carry less weight later.
The Government has defied the Constitution with brazen audacity in the Cabinet’s refusal to resign. The reason given is that the CCJ did not order it do so. The CCJ, in deeming the no confidence motion validly passed, said: “Upon the passage of a vote of no confidence, the Article requires the resignation of the Cabinet including the President.” It takes a leap of the imagination to conclude that because the CCJ did not order the Cabinet to resign, it does not have to do so.
The most important constitutional issue is the date for elections. The CCJ said that Article 106 requires “no gloss” and its “meaning is clear.” It goes on to say that elections are to be held “within three months” unless extended by the National Assembly. In calculating the time, the CCJ said that court proceedings “effectively placed matters on pause but this Court rendered its decision on 18 June 2018.” In relation to this aspect the consequential order is: “Upon the passage of this motion of no confidence in the Government, the clear provisions of Article 106 become engaged.” To ignore all of this and argue September 18 is not the date by which elections are to be held and that presumably, the date is at large, is equivalent to suggesting that the Cabinet does not have to resign after a no confidence motion.