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Attorney General appeals Chief Justice ruling on no-confidence motion; private sector demands elections now

Attorney General Basil Williams

Attorney General Basil Williams has filed an appeal against Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire’s decisions in which she found that the no-confidence motion was validly passed and the President and Cabinet ought to have resigned immediately.

Williams, who named House Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo as the respondents, said the Chief Justice “erred and misdirected herself in law” when she ruled that the no-confidence motion was validly passed by an absolute majority of 33 to 32 parliamentarians in keeping with Guyana’s constitution.

The Attorney General also said George-Wiltshire “erred and misdirected herself in law” when she ruled that the House Speaker’s Ruling that the motion of no-confidence was carried by a vote of a majority of all the elected members.

Williams said the Chief Justice’s “decision was unreasonable and cannot be supported having regard to the evidence.”

He said additional grounds would be filed when the Chief Justice’s written judgement becomes available. Similar grounds were filed in a related case by political commentator, Attorney-at-Law and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram.

The Attorney General has tenaciously held on to an appeal court ruling in Vanuatu in which it was found that the absolute majority of that 52-member Parliament is 27, that is 50 percent (26 seats) plus one additional seat.

However, the Chief Justice in her ruling has pointed out that that precedent case was not applicable because the Vanuatu House is made up of an even number of seats while Guyana’s is uneven. The absolute majority of Guyana’s 65-seat House, she stated, is 33.

Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire

The Guyana Constitution also provides for the President and overnment to remain in office until the holding of general elections within 90 days of the passage of a no-confidence motion or at another date to be approved by two-thirds of the National Assembly.

The Chief Justice has refused an application by the Attorney General for a stay of her decision and a conservatory order for the government to remain in office as the clock ticks towards the expiration of the 90 days on March 20, 2019.

Meanwhile, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has joined in calls for general elections to be held within the 90-day period. “We must underline the fact that when the Attorney General sought a Conservatory Order from the Chief Justice to preserve the “status quo ante”, his application was rejected by the Chief Justice. Clearly, therefore, in the view of the Commission, her ruling remains in place unless successfully appealed in a superior court. The Commission, as a consequence, expects the President and his government to respect and honour the decision of the Chief Justice and to proceed to have elections held no later than March 21st as required by Article 106(7) of the Constitution,” the PSC said.

The Private Sector Commission.

Saying it was extremely concerned about statements by top government officials that the work of government continues as normal, the PSC warned that Guyana could be approaching a period of political instability characterised by an illegal government. “The Private Sector Commission speaks not only for the business community with hundreds of billions invested in the development of our economy and the employment of some 60% of our workforce. In this case, we believe that we speak for the majority of the nation when we express our concern over public statements which deny the express ruling of the Chief Justice; statements which could lead our country into a situation of grave instability and an illegal government resulting,” the leading business advocate organisation said.

The United Nations Office in Guyana and the European Embassy here have also issued separate statements calling for respect of the judicial ruling and Guyana’s constitution.

The Guyana Elections Commission is Tuesday expected to pronounce on when general elections could be held, even as the governing coalition A Partner for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) and the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) are at odds over whether there should first be house-to-house registration.

Legally, the current voters’ list is valid until April 30, 2018.

The government and its three elections commissioners continue to demand house-to-house registration before the next general elections are held, while the opposition PPP maintains that elections must be held by March 20, 2019.