Wisdom prevailed
Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams and veteran broadcaster Enrico Woolford during the live programme broadcast on NCN
Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams and veteran broadcaster Enrico Woolford during the live programme broadcast on NCN

–AG says gov’t acted wisely during confidence vote
— believes opposition to ‘33 majority’ might have activated other moles on gov’t benches

ATTORNEY General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams said it was not government’s place to alert the opposition that it needed 34 votes to successfully pass the no-confidence motion as he holds fast to his position that in the 65-Member National Assembly, 34 constitutes an absolute majority.

In a legal memorandum to be submitted to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland, the attorney general argued that there was a miscalculation of the majority of all elected members as required under Article 106(6) of the Constitution for the government to be defeated on a vote of no-confidence.

On Friday, December 21, 2018, the Speaker had announced that the motion was carried with 33 Members of Parliament voting in favour of the motion and 32 against.
But though AFC back bencher Charrandas Persaud defected and voted in favour of the motion to give the opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) a simple majority, Williams said the motion is null, void, and of no effect.

“In order for the government to be defeated on a vote of confidence, 34 or more votes of all the elected members in favour of the motion was required instead of 33. This assertion is grounded in established parliamentary precedent and practice and case law in the Commonwealth,” the attorney general stated in the legal memorandum leaked to the Guyana Chronicle.

On Sunday, during a live programme broadcast by the National Communications Network (NCN) and moderated by veteran broadcaster Enrico Woolford, the attorney general said that if he had interjected during the voting process to bring the House’s attention that 34 votes constitute an absolute majority and not 33, the opposition could have possibly alerted another mole, if there was another compromised person.

“As it is, we are in a beautiful position, because I did not interject,” the attorney general told Woolford. Unsure whether there were other APNU+AFC MPs compromised, he said government was cautious in treating with the no-confidence motion.

“I was trained to be cautious, and I wasn’t trained to telegraph whatever tactics I propose to deploy in relation to the opposition’s position. It is not my business to alert the opposition that they need to get two of my members in order to win the vote,” he said.
According to him, government has managed the situation fairly well.
“As we understood it, there were supposed to be several, and I think that situation was handled adequately, because we are in a position to nullify that vote.”

He added: “I certainly acted in accordance with the intelligence that I had and with all the experience [and] instincts acquired over the years, working with three presidents, I believe that we did very well to be in this position, rather than if I had interjected and the count restarted, and the other moles were then activated, we would not have had a position, the vote would have been legally carried.”

In the legal memorandum, the attorney general pointed to the meaning of a majority, which according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary (1828) is a number greater than half.
“A political principle providing that a majority usually constituted by 50 per cent plus one of an organised group, will have the power to make decisions binding upon the whole” – majority as defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary.

According to the attorney general, the case of Kilman v Speaker of Parliament of the Republic of Vanuatu [2011] VUCA 15; Civil Appeal 09 of 2011 (13 May 2011) validates and subscribes to the definition of a majority.

As such, the he is arguing that with the National Assembly comprising 65 members, and mathematically, half of all the elected members would result in a fraction of 32.5, a majority would be 34, because there is no half human being and the number is therefore rounded off to 33. As such, a majority is 33 plus one.

“There are judicial authorities in the Commonwealth to show that where a number results in a fraction, the next highest whole number would represent the majority. In the instant case as half of 65 results in the fraction of 32.5, that figures should then be rounded to the next whole number being 33 which would now represent half of the elected members. In accordance with practice application of the meaning of majority means that ‘1’ must now be added to ‘33’ to calculate a majority,” he explained.
Government in the legal memorandum will this week ask the Speaker to reverse his ruling.

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