Caribbean Court of Justice makes landmark rulings against Guyana’s government
© WikiMedia (Kevin Gabbert)

Caribbean Court of Justice makes landmark rulings against Guyana’s government

The President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the Honorable Mr. Justice Adrian Saunders, delivered the opinion of the court regarding the no-confidence vote held in the Guyanese Parliament on December 21, 2018, which the court held to be valid under the Constitution of Guyana. The Court’s decision upholds the decision of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland that the motion was carried by a majority of 33 votes. The contention between the parties was whether 33 or 34 votes constituted a majority. The Attorney General, Mr. Basil Williams, contended that the formula for achieving a majority, as like in other Parliamentary systems with an odd number of representatives, that the majority constitutes one half of the members plus one, which would hold that 34 votes are required to form a majority. 

The ruling came as part of a consolidation of cases. The other case involved whether, then Member of Parliament, Mr. Charrandass Persaud was eligible to be a member of Parliament and if his vote did indeed count in the aforementioned dispute. Mr. Persaud held dual citizenship as a citizen of Guyana and Canada, which made him ineligible to hold his position according to the government’s position. He was a member of the coalition government and was persuaded by the opposition to vote on their side. The Court held that they were not in a position to rule on this matter as Guyana’s Constitution already provided a remedy and the time has lapsed regarding the Court taking any action.

The resulting no-confidence vote by a majority of the 65 member National Assembly against the coalition government requires the government, including the President and his cabinet, to resign immediately and to hold new elections within three months. The government has not resigned per the constitution, nor has it acquired the requisite votes of a two-thirds majority of the all the elected members to continue in office.

Article 106(6) of the Constitution states that the Cabinet, including the President, shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly “on a vote of confidence.” Article 106(7) goes on to state, among other  things, that notwithstanding its defeat, the government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months. That three-month period may, however, be extended by a resolution of the Assembly that is supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members.

The CCJ has scheduled a hearing between the parties for them to submit recommendations to the court regarding the consequential orders that the Court shall make in relation to its conclusions.

In another decision with implications regarding Guyana’s elections, the CCJ ruled that the appointment by Guyana’s President David Granger of Reverend Justice (Retired) James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission was also unconstitutional. The Constitution states that the Chairman of the Elections Commission is to be selected by the President from a list of six nominees submitted by the leader of the opposition. The persons on the list are to be not unacceptable by the President. President Granger rejected all the names submitted by the opposition leader. In making its decision the Court held,

In our view, employment of the double negative, ‘not unacceptable’, signals that an onus is placed on the President not to find a nominee unacceptable merely because the nominee is not a choice the President would have himself made.  The President should only find a nominee unacceptable for some good reason on objective grounds. If a President were permitted, capriciously or whimsically, without proffering a good reason, to reject eligible nominees, this would frustrate the proper working of the Constitution, defeat the intention behind the amendment to Article 161(2) and pave the way for unilateral presidential appointment.

The political turmoil in Guyana comes as the country is expected to become one of the world’s major oil suppliers, and the largest in the region by some estimates, producing some 120,000 barrels per day, which could reach 750,000 per day by 2025.