The Chief Justice ruled that the no confidence motion was lawfully passed on December 21 in the National Assembly by a 33-32 vote, and that the vote of Charandass Persaud was lawful, notwithstanding that as a dual citizen he was unlawfully occupying his seat in the National Assembly. Consequent upon those findings, the Chief Justice ruled that the Cabinet automatically resigned on the passing of the no confidence motion. The Chief Justice granted neither a stay of execution nor a conservatory order which would have preserved the status quo ante. Yet the Government announced that the status quo remained and Government business will be conducted as usual.
This statement, disrespectful and defiant of the Chief Justice’s ruling, presumably means that the Cabinet will continue to meet and function and take decisions affecting the governance of Guyana, even though it is unlawful to do so. In effect, the Government’s functions must be limited to the implementation of existing decisions as no new ones can be made by the non-existent Cabinet. The statement also means that those Members of the National Assembly who hold dual citizenship will continue to occupy their seats even though the effect of the Chief Justice’s ruling in relation to CharrandassPersaud’s means that their membership is unlawful. Such bold, brazen and open defiance of lawful authority, of the Constitution and of the rule of law by a Government, have never been seen in Guyana after the Burnham era, or in the Commonwealth Caribbean, or in any democratic country for that matter.
The decisions of the Chief Justice have material consequences. The functions of the Government are necessarily limited because the Cabinet does not exist and no decisions can be made. Only decisions already made can be implemented by Ministers and Ministries. If the President of Guyana does not recognize caretaker status for the Government because such a status is not provided for in the Constitution, it needs to recognize that its functions are limited as a result of the decisions of the Chief Justice. If the Government defies this consequence of the Chief Justice’s decision, it will be flaunting its disrespect for the judiciary and the Constitution.
A date for elections need to be announced. The Government need not issue a proclamation to dissolve the National Assembly and another proclamation for elections, just in case it succeeds in the Court of Appeal or later, the CCJ. However, the announcement will force the Elections Commission to begin serious preparation for the elections. If in considering a date for elections it is calculated that the decision of the Court of Appeal, and potentially the CCJ, might not allow adequate elbow room to fix a date for elections, there is a good chance that the Opposition Leader, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, will be persuaded that these circumstances would justify an extension of time. But clearly the Government does not see this collegial approach as one that should be adopted. The end result is that March will come and go and the Government will be still in office without legal status and without elections having been held, or a date fixed, or the Elections Commission not having ceased to drag its feet. The Government has no way of resolving this self-imposed conundrum. If it loses its appeals, as expected, it cannot lawfully remain in office and cannot lawfully preside over elections. The Government would demonstrate wisdom by beginning to consider the formation of a national government, as a potential way out of the conundrum, if the March deadline is exceeded without elections being held.
The decision of the Chief Justice marks an historic development in Guyana’s democratic and judicial history. Never in the history of Guyana as an Independent Nation has the life and existence of a Government attracted the attention of the court. If the consequences of the no confidence motion had been accepted, as they initially were, judicial intervention would not have been necessary. As is it, our judiciary was tested as it never had been, and it stood tall.
First, the speed with which the cases were heard and the decisions given, based on the Chief Justice’s recognition of their public importance, are a new dimension to the administration of justice in Guyana, pioneered mostly by the Chief Justice, despite the onerous work load that she carries. I have been witness to time sensitive cases in Guyana’s past where everything was done to delay the hearing and decisions, with the collusion of the Judge. Second, a case in which the result would affect the life of a government was never considered by the court. The Chief Justice would have seen herself doing her best to make correct decisions without regard to who the parties were, the public controversies surrounding the matters, or the consequences of her decisions. There are some who always saw her as a committed Judge of uncommon courage.