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PORT OF SPAIN – The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Friday reserved judgement in the appeal brought by Guyana Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo challenging the ruling of the Court of Appeal in his country, that invalidated a motion of no confidence that was passed in the National Assembly in December last year.
“I want to thank counsel for your very interesting submissions. Naturally we will have to take time to consider and we would let you know when we are ready with the decision,” CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders, said after the five-member panel had heard oral submissions over the past two days.
The appeal by Jagdeo is among the three matters that have been consolidated by the CCJ, the country’s highest and final court, regarding the vote of no confidence.
The other cases, filed by Charrandass Persaud and attorney Christopher Ram, are to determine whether or not a majority of 34 votes were needed to ensure the downfall of the government and should President David Granger and his government have resigned and allow for fresh regional and general elections within 90 days following the vote of no confidence that was passed in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018.
When the matters came before the High Court in Guyana in January, it ruled that only 33 votes were required. However, on appeal to the Court of Appeal, the three-member panel by a 2-1 majority held that 34 votes were required.
Persaud, who was then a government legislator voted in support of the motion in the National Assembly, ensuring that the coalition administration lost its one-seat majority in the 65-member legislative body.
The Guyana government had argued in the appeal that Persaud was ineligible to vote because he held dual citizenship.
Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay on Friday reiterated his earlier arguments that Persaud could not have voted in favour of the motion given that under the country’s Constitution, he was made a member of the Parliament through a list that had been presented by President Granger.
“When you choose to put your name on that list, you subject yourself to the system and the system says you support your list.
“You are free to walk at any time. You are free to leave at any time, but the reality . . . I respectfully submit, governments have a mandate in their manifestos, they seek to implement it . . . and so a rigorous debate takes place in Cabinet, a rigorous in the political caucus and people argue . . . and the position settled in the party.
“When people go to Parliament . . . it is to debate against the opposition, not for somebody to get some smart idea at that point. Having sat in caucus, having sat in Cabinet and understood the decision that had been taken to get up and say, well you know I don’t want to agree with 45-5, I think it should be 35-15 because I have listened to the opposition.
“That is mythical Guyana. The reality is the debate, the discussion takes place in the caucus, in the Cabinet and then we go to debate against our political adversaries. That is the system,” the Belize-based attorney said, adding, “It is fanciful, even in a Constitution not as rigid as Guyana to believe . . . that in the parliaments around the Caribbean prime ministers and presidents walk into parliament and have no idea what the outcome is going to be because we have geniuses all of a sudden who are going to listen to the opposition . . . and vote against the bill I have sat in Cabinet, sat in caucus and come and say I will support.”
“That is not the reality and that is the context with respect I ask this Court to take a look at Sections 156 and 106,” he said.
Courtenay said Section 156 (3A) imposes an obligation on anyone “who thinks all of a sudden that I support my party but I don’t support the government, but I don’t like this,” he said, adding that the legislation makes it imperative that the party is told ahead of any negative vote.
He said when Sections 156 and 106 are read together “it is to ensure as near as possible a fixed term government” of five years.
Earlier, Senior Counsel, Douglas Mendes, who is representing Jagdeo, sought to defend Persaud’s right to cast his ballot last December.
“There is nothing in the Constitution that says you must vote in accordance with your list,” Mendes said, adding that there was no evidence before the Court to suggest that Persaud knew he was disqualified on the basis of holding dual citizenship.
“My learned friends say well he is a lawyer, so that he must know that he is disqualified. It seems that my learned friend is shocked or to think that a lawyer could make a mistake as to what the law is. So he is saying that there is only one answer, he being a lawyer he must know what that answer is.
“Our experience in law indicates that this simply does not follow,” Mendes said, noting that lawyers frequently disagree and hence the reason for the appearance before the CCJ.
He said Persaud had declared on oath that he was qualified to be a member of the National Assembly and that he was no disqualified.
“He can’t dispute that. What is he going to come and say that I did not declare that I was qualified? He has no basis for saying that. If there was evidence that he thought or he knew he was disqualified, if there was evidence of that then you would say he should come to dispute it.
“His not coming to dispute it means he accepts it. But there is no one who said I had a conversation with Mr Persaud at the time of nomination and he raised the question. He says you know I think I am disqualified and they said No, don’t worry about that, out your name . . . and he says okay I will put my name”.
Mendes argued that if there is evidence of such a discussion “then you would say his failure to come to contradict it means something.
“But the only evidence before the Court was that he thought he was not disqualified, there is nothing for him to answer,” Mendes said.
But Courtenay dismissed the argument, saying that Persaud had not sworn to any affidavit denying a statement by the private citizen Compton Reid that “at all material times”, the former legislator remained in the Parliament “while knowingly being in allegiance, adherence as a citizen to a foreign power, to wit, Canada”. (CMC)