by Zena Henry and Chevy Devonish
Prime Minister (PM) Moses Nagamootoo says he has no issue with President David Granger chairing Cabinet meetings, even as former Attorney General Anil Nandlall says a provision in a pre-election pact between the parties now in government violates Guyana’s constitution.
Under the Cummingsburg Accord, Nagamootoo is to chair Cabinet meetings even if the President is in Guyana, but this violates constitutional provisions.
Nandlall has expressed surprise that the coalition, with so many Attorneys-at-Law in its fold, came to make an agreement that “collides so flagrantly the constitution.”
The Cummingsburg Accord cemented the current coalition between A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC), thus allowing it to wrest the Executive branch of government from the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) after a 23-year reign.
The Accord contained several agreements, including a stipulation that the PM is to chair Cabinet meetings. This provision came under scrutiny recently when it was revealed that Granger, as opposed to Nagamootoo chaired Cabinet’s first meetings.
In fact, to have Nagamootoo chair Cabinet where Granger is present and capable of executing the responsibility contravenes the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Article 106 (3) specifically.
The Article reads: “Cabinet Meetings shall be presided over by (a) the President; (s) in the absence of the President, the Prime Minister; (c) in the absence of the President and the Prime Minister, such Minister as the President may designate.”
In accordance with the principles of statutory interpretation the word ‘shall’ indicates an obligation as opposed to discretion on the part of the president to delegate the responsibility to another functionary outside of the conditions laid out in Article 106 (3).
Nagamootoo has acknowledged that the chairmanship of the Cabinet belongs to the president, while pointing out that “it is not an issue that I find that upsets me.”
“It’s not upsetting to me because I think we are working as a ream and while the President is in the country and the President has something to say to the Cabinet then one wouldn’t expect the President to just move away into a side room. “
Nagamootoo further said that “we have an active President and we have to make this Accord work, make this coalition work, and for me the things that are minor irritances I won’t elevate to any importance.”
Nandlall, however, is not taking the agreement, whether or not it will be honored, as lightly as Nagamootoo.
During an interview with Demerara Waves Online News on Monday he said “ I cannot understand how they allowed the Cummingsburg Accord to collide so flagrantly with the constitution.”
“In 2001 when we had the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC) we made several changes to the constitution. Among these changes was that the Cabinet meetings shall be presided over by the President. Moses Nagamootoo sat in that Commission…Rupert Roopnaraine sat on that Commission and played a very important role…Khemraj Ramjattan was in Parliament…they are lawyers, they cannot claim a lack of awareness of the provisions of the Constitution,” the former AG contends.
As Prime Minister, Nagamootoo is expected to be Leader of Government Business in the 65-seat National Assembly.He been also assigned two portfolios– constitutional reform and information.