Last Updated on Monday, 19 June 2023, 21:23 by Denis Chabrol
The High Court on Monday dismissed an opposition case that had sought to challenge the legitimacy of the passage of the Natural Resource Fund Act on the basis that the parliamentary mace had been removed by angry parliamentarians who had sought to block debate on the Bill because there was no consultation.
“The absence of the mace in the National Assembly during the passage of the NRF (Natural Resource Fund) Bill did not invalidate the subsequent passage of the NRF,” Justice Navindra Singh said in his decision.
He said there was no constitutional or legal requirement for the mace to be placed before the House Speaker to determine whether the National Assembly was in session. He said it was clear that the mace was merely a relic intended only to be symbolic existence in the National Assembly and so played no role in the actual deliberations. “It is illogical to believe that the presence or absence of a a length of metal can determine the legitimacy of acts done by persons elected by the citizens of the country pursuant to their elected duties,” he said.
After striking out the several reliefs that had been sought by Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones and trade unionist Norris Witter, Justice Singh awarded costs of GY$250,000 each to Attorney General Anil Nandlall, the Parliament Office, House Speaker Manzoor Nadir, Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh.
The NRF was passed on December 29, 2021, despite disruption of the proceedings by several opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) parliamentarians. The parliamentary disciplinary committee had suspended them from several sittings resulting in a loss of pay and other sanctions as a result of the removal of the mace, whistling, walking in the Well of the National Assembly, chanting of slogans, disconnection of audio visual equipment and removal of the mace.
In his decision, Justice Singh also criticised Mr Jones and Mr Witter for contending that the mace symbolises authority but the evidence shows that several parliamentarians, including the Chief Whip, contributed to the disruption of the proceedings. ” It is startling that the claimants assert that the mace is an integral instrument of authority of the Speaker and is significant to the orderly function of the National Assembly when the evidence clearly demonstrates that several Opposition Members of Parliament , including the first named claimant, refused to heed to the Speaker’s call for order in accordance with the Standing Orders of the National Assembly,” he said.
Mr Singh singled out Mr Jones and stated that he ought to be guided by the maxim “that which I approve, I cannot disapprove.”
The High Court also dismissed another claim that the continuation of the sitting of the National Assembly beyond 8 PM and the passage of the NRF Bill after 8 PM invalidated the passage of legislation. “The times for sitting of the National Assembly is not mandated by the Constitution or the Laws of Guyana and nothing in this regard can result in the passage of the Bill being unconstitutional or unlawful,” he said.
Also dismissed was the claim that Guyana’s Constitution requires or mandates the National Assembly to engage in consultation with the “stakeholders” and citizenry of Guyana before enacting legislation. The judge disagreed with the claimants that Article 13 gives members of the public a constitutional right to engage in consultation on the NRF Bill before it was enacted. Though Article 13 provides that the State is to establish opportunities for the participation of citizens in the decision-making processes of the State, that could be reasonably interpreted to mean that the legislature of the executive must consult with every citizen when considering or enacting laws for the good governance of Guyana.
Justice Singh reasoned that the system envisaged under the constitution is for the elected representatives to be the voice of their respective constituencies in the National Assembly and the manner in which that is done is provided for through the internal procedures set down by the National Assembly. He said the parliamentarians would have to be blamed if the system did not work “Failure of the consultative process envisaged by the law only occurs when the elected representatives, by their own actions, fail to be the voice of their constituents by adhering to and utilising the processes set down by the National Assembly,” he said.
On Mr Witter’s position that the House Speaker did not deal with a petition concerning the NRF Act that he and others submitted and so their constitutional rights had been infringed, the High Court stated that the procedure for presenting a petition was not governed by the Constitution or the laws of Guyana.