Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman on Thursday said the House would decide whether to appeal the High Court ruling that the National Budget but he was in favour of government and the opposition ironing out their differences in frank talks.
“At some stage, we have to sit as big men and women and define because we each have our own interpretations about where the parameters and this begs, in my view, for some kind of sitting down because we are going continue proving and proving,” he told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com).
Both government and the opposition have given reasons not to hold pre-budget talks to avoid cuts in the 2012 and 2013 budgets.
Trotman said he planned to report to the 65-seat House at its next meeting on February 10 and seek guidance from his lawyers and advice by either the parliamentarians or party leaders. The Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) have already said that they would appeal Chief Justice Ian Chang’s decision and at the same time proceed to cut the 2014 estimates of expenditures because the Assembly is independent of the judiciary.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall has acknowledged that the Assembly has a right not to approve the entire budget or part of it, rather than encroaching on the constitutional right of the Finance Minister to reduce estimates.
The Speaker noted that while the parliamentarians could not be cited for contempt of court, if they went and slashed the budget government could still go ahead and spend the monies by relying on the High Court ruling. “Both sides – Executive and Legislative branches- have to make sure that we don’t bring our constitution into disrepute and court a constitutional crisis and confusion just to prove who is right and who is wrong,” he said.
Asked if the House could still go ahead and reduce proposed expenditures if an appeal is filed, he said it depended on whether the Court of Appeal issued a stay until the hearing and determination of the case.
Although there appeared to be renewed bickering between the opposition and government following Chang’s ruling, the House Speaker hailed the outcome and possible appeal as a good for constitutional evolution. “At the end of the day, the decision of the High Court help to strengthen our jurisprudence… this is how your constitutions grow and are interpreted. If they remain static, they die so I am not at all freaking out and getting emotionally upset and worked up,” he said.
The Speaker and the Opposition parties have long maintained that the Court has no business in determining how the Assembly carries out its functions but he said the High Court ruling must be respected and appealed if needs be. “Normally you respect a judicial decision whether it is right or wrong until it is set aside or stayed,” he said. Trotman added that the doctrine of the separation of powers is the foundation of Guyana’s, and all parliamentary democracies, which recognises that the rule of law must be respected and upheld.
In a statement, he explained that the principle of comity dictates that the three branches of government – the Executive, the Legislative and the judicial are all separate and equal, and are to respect the rights and authority of each other.
He noted that the Chief Justice’s ruling provides an interpretation of the Rules and Standing Orders of the National Assembly relative to their conformity with Constitution of Guyana.
He said Article 171 of the Guyana Constitution is the same as those provisions in the Constitutions of all Commonwealth nations as the Standing Orders and Rules of the Parliaments of Commonwealth Nations.
“The right of the National Assembly to approve, including the right to amend budgetary estimates, is a long established right. This Ruling by the Hon. Chief Justice is an interpretation that would have far-reaching ripples and effects throughout the Commonwealth parliamentary systems and procedures,” said Trotman.
Attorney General Nandlall issued a statement late Thursday chiding lawyers who are also senior leaders of their political parties for saying that they would disobey the High Court ruling. He echoed the Speaker’s position that the decision should be respected until it is set aside by a superior court. At the same time, Nandlall called on Trotman to respect Guyana’s constitution. “In these challenging circumstances, the Speaker of the National Assembly has a pivotal role to play. As the authority in charge of the National Assembly, it is his responsibility to ensure that those under his charge comply with the Constitution as declared and pronounced by its guardian, the Judiciary. From this responsibility he cannot resile. He, himself, is a creature of the Constitution. The power he enjoys is derived from the Constitution. One can only hope that he protects and does not desecrate or aid and abet the desecration of his creator- the Constitution,” said the Attorney General.
He expressed grave concern that the top politicians of APNU and AFC were misleading their supporters and he also heaped scorn on critics of the Chief Justice, saying such expressions were distasetful.