THE announcement on Tuesday last that four APNU+AFC Coalition Government ministers had submitted their resignations to President Granger still occupies the news. The focus is not per se on the resignations, but on the reason for them, that is, that the ministers hold dual citizenship.
I could find no previous instance in contemporary Guyanese political history when four ministers of government together voluntarily resigned. The practice as I have known it, when the standing of ministers had been impugned, was for government to circle the wagons.
The primary blast that triggered the resignations was the decision by both the Guyana High Court and the Court of Appeal that a person simultaneously holding Guyana and foreign citizenship is not qualified to be nominated for, nor be elected to hold, a seat in the National Assembly.
Acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire ruled that anyone who holds dual citizenship, that is, of Guyana and of a foreign power or state, “should not and cannot be a Member of Parliament” under Article 155(1)(a) of the Guyana Constitution.
The chief justice ruled that the MP who supported an opposition motion in an attempt to remove the government, being a Canadian citizen, was disqualified from being nominated as a Member of Parliament and not qualified for election as an MP.
However, the learned chief justice invoked procedural reasons for not invalidating the vote of the unruly MP, claiming that she had no jurisdiction to do so as the matter then at bar did not originate from an elections petition to disqualify the MP. She had no doubt, however, that what the MP did might be wrong or even immoral; and that he could even be seen as being disloyal, and that he violated the spirit and intent of the Constitution. The rogue MP has since returned to the haven of his foreign citizenship, but has left a discredited vote that remains, in law, valid.
The Court of Appeal has since ruled on other grounds that the no-confidence motion was not validly carried, and reversed the decision of the chief justice on this ground. On the limb of the vote by an MP holding dual citizenship, Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justice of Appeal Madam Justice Dawn Gregory, additionally found that the chief justice had jurisdiction to deal with this matter as a constitutional issue, though they fell short of disturbing her decision.
NO JURISDICTIONAL BAR
Chancellor Cummings-Edwards explained the findings of the majority of appellate judges on the issue in these words: “I prefer to say that there being no jurisdictional bar, in this particular instance, and given the finding of the learned chief justice on the nomination issue alone, the court ought to uphold the Rule of Law and the Constitution.”
In accepting the resignations of his four “dual citizens” ministers, President Granger reaffirmed that his administration was showing respect for the courts’ decision, even though the issue is before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for final adjudication. The Guyana Government has taken the political and moral high ground that it is on the side of the Rule of Law and is obeying the Constitution. It is therefore before the CCJ with “clean hands.”
It appears that in football vernacular the “disqualified” government MP had kicked the ball in the opponent’s goalpost net, which was scored for the opponent. But, not being qualified for nomination as an MP, he was ab initio not a player, due to his dual citizenship. He was rather a spectator whose goal could not be counted.
This seems to be the view of the government whose four MPs are due to submit their resignations to the Speaker of the National Assembly. Three of them have indicated that they would renounce their foreign citizenship, the fourth being a British citizen by birth. There are additionally in the House three opposition MPs with dual citizenship, and media reports indicated that two of them would renounce also.
RESIGN AND RENOUNCE
There is every indication that the ministers would be re-engaged in government service once they have purged themselves of any potential contempt of the decision of the court. The politically correct thing in circumstances of collision with the Constitution is to resign, renounce and re-engage.
This has been a convention in government over many years. To hear Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo belly-aching about the use of taxpayers’ money to retain the services of highly qualified and experienced former ministers is hypocritical and disingenuous.
During the Jagdeo presidency, several former ministers were handed sinecure appointments — with full pensions, perks and privileges. Except in the cases of Messrs. Ramotar and Gajraj — I am not going to name names, out of respect for the former officials with whom I had served both in government and in the PPP’s leadership for many years — and a few of whom I consider to be true patriots.
One such appointment that did not go down well was that of Ronald Gajraj, the late Minister of Home Affairs who resigned in 2005 in the wake of allegations of ties to the Phantom or death squad. He was posted to India as Guyana’s High Commissioner. Disclosures made later, revealed that he was paid some US$8,000 monthly, twice the salary of “ordinary” envoys, and allowed four to eight first-class tickets for his annual travels.
I recall that he had sued the then outspoken Gail Teixiera who, upon being appointed the new Minister of Home Affairs, had discovered literally a filthy Augean Stable of racketeering, involving birth certificates, passports, visas and fake work permits. After she was quoted in Wikileaks, Gajraj sued Teixeira for $30 million for alleged defamation of his character!
In the case of Donald Ramotar, he was appointed political adviser to President Jagdeo though he did not hold any previous ministerial portfolio. As a set-up to given him political exposure before the selection of a PPP presidential candidate in late 2010, the potential presidential proxy was taken on expensive overseas jaunts, including to the Middle East and India.
Now, it is funny that he should be lecturing anyone on the use of taxpayers’ money on retaining credible and qualified government advisers.
In Guyanese creolese, it is like de karahee telling pat that e battam black!
April 7, 2019.