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Reducing president’s prorogation powers stares hurdle

Government on Thursday announced its intention to modify Guyana’s constitution to limit the conditions under which Parliament can be suspended but the administration does not have a super majority to do so.

Unless the administration, which has 33 seats, can win the support of the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP), such a change to the entrenched provisions of the constitution will go nowhere because it requires at least 43 ‘yes’ votes from among the 65 parliamentarians. The PPPC has 32 seats.

Additionally, the government promises that it will never prorogue the National Assembly during its five-year tenure. These sentiments were expressed by Minister of Governance within the Ministry of the Presidency, Raphael Trotman, during his presentation in the National Assembly during Thursday’s sitting.

Detailing contemplated ways prevent the abuse of prorogation, Trotman says that it “is expected that articles dealing with prorogation, suspension, dissolution of parliament may very well come under the scrutiny of the Chamber of the Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs (Basil Williams) with some definition being put as to what circumstances could trigger the prorogation of parliament rather than it being used as it was on November 10 last year, 2014.”

The problem with government’s plan is that Article 164 (2) (b) of the constitution entrenches Article 70. As a result, changes to Article 70 can only be effected by a two-third majority vote in the National Assembly. In other words, government will need the help of the PPPC to make their changes. The PPPC for their part has given no indication of when it will take its seats in the National Assembly. Further, as the party has said that it has no issue with the way the relevant provisions is currently worded it is unclear whether it would support the government’s endeavour. 

 “Under this government there shall never be a prorogation of the National Assembly. (If) it is that we have lost the favor of the people, and we have lost the confidence of the people we will do what is right and honorable and resign,” said Trotman, who shared that he was communicating the feelings of President David Granger.

Continuing, he said “we would not invoke articles of the constitution in an autocratic and despotic way to protect ourselves because, Mr. Speaker, in fact we saw what the outcome was: Chaos and an ultimate rejection by the people.”

Article 70 (1) of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana stipulates that “The President may at any time by proclamation prorogue Parliament.” Additionally, Article 70 (2) stipulates that “The President may at any time by proclamation dissolve Parliament.”

Last year, after becoming dissatisfied with the way the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) was governing, the opposition parties expressed intent to move a vote of no-confidence against government in the National Assembly. This would have forced Cabinet to resign and would have triggered early elections.

Faced with an imminent no-confidence motion against his administration, former president, Donald Ramotar, first delayed the recommencement of the National Assembly after its August-September recess. Usually the National Assembly emerges from its recess in October but government did not decide on a date until November.

Then, on the day on which the first post-recess was to take place, which was also the day the no-confidence motion was to be brought, the Ramotar invoked Article 70 (1). He had said that the step was taken to extend the life of the 10th Parliament and to reason with the then opposition APNU and AFC.

The opposition parties however, accused Ramotar of proroguing the National Assembly for political expedience. In other words, Ramotar is said to have prorogued the National Assembly solely to avoid the motion against his government. Though the step was legal, many argued that it was undemocratic.