Motion was out of order –Speaker
July 11, 2004
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The Speaker said that the Stabroek News reported that the Leader of the Opposition and PNC/R Mr. Robert Corbin said that for several months the party had been calling for the report to be considered in Parliament with a view to it being adopted and implemented, and that the Speaker in March disallowed a motion from PNC/R Parliamentarian Raphael Trotman calling for Parliament to debate the report describing the motion as being “ill -conceived.”
In rejecting the contention, Mr. Ramkarran declared: “I do not know if the report accurately reflects what Honourable Member Mr. Robert Corbin said. On the assumption that it does, I wish to state the following: Honourable Member Mr. Raphael Trotman wrote to me on the 19th March, 2004 submitting a motion regarding the Interim Report of the Disciplined Services Commission.”
He added that the Motion resolved as follows: “The Clerk of the National Assembly be immediately instructed to place the Interim Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission on the Order Paper for the obtaining of an affirmative resolution of this National Assembly.”
Mr. Ramkarran explained that the motion was out of order because the placing of a motion on an Order paper is an administrative function of the Parliament Office.
&The motion has to be submitted, approved by me, then published in a Notice paper and then placed on the Order Paper 14 days from the day on which the notice was published before it can be debated,” the Speaker asserted.
He explained further that for the National Assembly to have directed the Clerk to place the Interim Report on the Order Paper is contrary to the Standing Orders, “and is placing the cart before the horse.”
Mr. Ramkarran said after studying Trotman’s Motion, he directed the Clerk to reply which he did on March 30, 2004, offering a re-drafted clause which stated: “The National Assembly of the Parliament of Guyana approves the recommendations of the Interim report of the Commission laid in the National Assembly on the 11th December, 2003.”
The Speaker added that he also directed the Clerk to offer Trotman a copy of a Draft Motion prepared by the Parliament Office for the use by any Member of Parliament.
However, he said the Clerk received no response to the letter.
&The comment in the Stabroek News conveys an incorrect and incomplete impression of what transpired. The motion was out of order and no one can conceivably argue that it was. The Parliament Office tried to assist in offering a correction. The offer was not taken up,” the Speaker emphasised.
He added: “Had of all this been revealed, or if it was revealed, no one could have been left the impression that I or the Parliament office unjustifiably rejected the letter from Honourable Member Mr. Trotman.” (Chamanlall Naipaul)
We publish below the statements delivered by Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran at the sitting of the National Assembly on Thursday July 8, 2004. 's Stabroek News in a report on page 2 under the headline `PNC/R for Parliament today's’ states as follows:
"Speaking yesterday at a specially convened press conference held at the PNC/R headquarters at Congress Place, Leader of the Opposition, Robert Corbin said that for several months the party had been calling for the report to be considered in Parliament with a view to it being adopted and implemented.
He said that in March, the Speaker of the National Assembly disallowed a motion from PNC/R Parliamentarian Raphael Trotman calling for Parliament to debate the Report. The Speaker had said that the Motion was ill-conceived."
I do not know if the report accurately reflects what Honorary Member Mr. Robert Corbin said. On the assumption that it does I wish to state the following; Honorary Member Mr. Raphael Trotman wrote to me on the 19th March 2004, submitting a motion regarding the Interim Report of the Disciplined Forces Commission. The Motion resolved as follows;
"The Clerk of the National Assembly was immediately instructed to place the Interim Report of the Desciplined Forces Commission on the order Paper for the obtaining of an affirmative resolution of this National Assembly".
The Motion was out of order because the placing of a Motion on an Order Paper is an administrative function of the Parliament Office.
The Motion has to be submitted, approved by me, then published in a Notice Paper and then placed on the Order Paper 14 days from the day on which the notice was published before it can be debated.
For the National Assembly to direct the Clerk to place the Interim Report on the Order Paper is contrary to the Standing Orders, it is not a Motion and is placing the cart before the horse.
After studying the Honorary Member's letter I directed the Clerk to reply which he did on the 30th March 2004, offering a re-drafted clause which states;
"The National Assembly of the Parliament of Guyana approves the recommendations of the Interim Report of the Commission laid in the National Assembly on the 11th December 2003."
I also directed the Clerk to offer Honorary Member Mr. Trotman a copy of a draft Motion prepared by the Parliament Office for the use for the use of any Member of Parliament.
The Clerk received no response to his letter of 30th March 2004. I am more than amazed to have received a document of the type that I did purporting to be a Motion.
The comment reported in the Stabroek News conveys an incorrect and incomplete impression of what transpired. The Motion was out of order and no one can conceivably argue that it was. The Parliament Office tried to assist in offering a correction. The offer was not taken up.
Had all of this been revealed, or if it was revealed, had it been reported, no one could have been left with the impression that I or the Parliament Office unjustifiably rejected the letter from Honorary Member Mr. Trotman.
I am circulating the letter from Honorary, his draft Motion, the Clerk's response and the draft Motion from the Parliament Office.
Honorary Members will note that I did not describe the Honorary Member's Motion as "ill conceived".
THE evening of Sunday 27, June 2003, the Honorable Member Mr. Robert Corbin, Leader of the Opposition, on the television programme `Plain Talk’ complained about my rejection of his Motion on the 15th March 2004, seeking an adjournment of the National Assembly to discuss a matter of urgent public importance.
In relation to his second proposed Motion sent to me on the 18th March, for debate the following day if his other Motion for a suspension of the Standing Orders had been passed, Hon. Member Mr. Corbin said that I refused to place it on the Order Paper for "flimsy" reasons.
In both matters, I gave written rulings based on only some of the reasons which applied.
Time constraints prevented me from exploring at that time all of the reasons why the Motions should be rejected. The first Motion was delivered to me at 12:10 pm, (it is required to be delivered by 11:00 am) on the 15th March 2004, to be moved in the National Assembly at 2:00 pm, the same day. It consisted of four typewritten pages.
The second Motion, identical or almost identical to the first, was received by me at about midday on the 18th March, 2004, and Hon. Member Mr. Corbin proposed to debate it the following day, subject to the suspension of the Standing Orders as I stated above.
My first ruling was based on whether the Motion qualified as what is called an 'Adjournment Motion'. My second ruling, contained in a letter to Hon. Member Mr. Corbin dated the 18th March, 2004, was based on the contents of the Motion. Sufficient issues were examined in both cases to satisfy me that on those issues the Motion failed, even though there were other issues that I could not explore.
Prior to Hon. Member Mr. Robert Corbin's criticism, there have been regular complaints on television programmes and press conferences by Members of the Opposition PNC/R that they have been prevented by me from debating the issues contained in the Motions. One such was made by the Hon. Member Mr. Corbin at a press conference on Thursday, 10th June, 2004, or on television programme on 13th June, 2004.
These complaints which imply that my rulings were motivated by reasons other than those which I should have properly considered, have never been accompanied by any arguments showing why they were wrong or motivated by extraneous considerations. Hon. Member Mr. Corbin's most recent complaint is that I did not have adequate reasons for rejecting his Motion.
I had always intended that my rulings should speak for themselves and they were made available to the press. But having regard to this recent accusation by Hon. Member Mr. Corbin, I consider it necessary to inform the National Assembly, the public and the press of the circumstances surrounding this matter and ex[lain my rulings.
The National Assembly is governed by rules called `Standing Orders’ which I am obliged to interpret and uphold. In this responsibility, and specifically in connection with the qualifications for Motion, I have no discretion. In the case of the Hon. Member, Mr. Corbin's Motions, the Standing Orders were clearly and obviously not complied with.
I am satisfied that the rulings which I gave in both cases are unimpeachable. Even though I am not required to do so, I give written rulings whenever it is possible even though, as far as I am aware, few Speakers, if any, do. The reason for this is to expose my decisions, and hence the functioning of the National Assembly, to more public scrutiny by giving opportunities to Members, the public and the press to satisfy themselves that my rulings are not whimsical, partisan or motivated by extraneous considerations but are based on objective analysis of the Standing Orders and the rules, practices and conventions which apply. I believe that this practice would elevate the role and stature of the National Assembly in governance and reduce allegations of the partisanship. Unfortunately, these efforts have not yet succeeded.
A period of two and a half months elapsed between the time of the publication of the allegations of the late George Bacchus in December, 2003, and the 15th March, 2004, when the National Assembly first met and on which date the Adjournment Motion was moved. However, only 14 days notice is required for a Private Member's Motion. Had a Private Member's Motion been tabled and approved as late as the end of February, 2004, it would have been ready for debate by the 15th March. Such a Motion could have been filed but no explanation has been given as to why it was not and why it was necessary to resort to the "very potent procedural device" (Kashyap on Parliamentary Procedures) if an Adjournment Motion the rules for which are many and onerous.
Hon. Member Mr. Corbin, as an experienced parliamentarian, must be more than conversant with the basic rules in connection with Adjournment Motions, some of which are, (1) the matter must be of recent occurrence and raised without delay; (2) the fact that is it raised at the first opportunity, the National Assembly not having met before, does not qualify a Motion that may have otherwise qualified; (3) the fact that the grievance is continuing is not sufficient if it is not of recent occurrences; (4) in relation to recently, the matter must have arisen suddenly in the manner of an emergency and not over a series of weeks; (5) the fact must be admitted or established. The Adjournment Motion contravened all of those rules. These are not rules of my invention. They are contained in the texts which I applied and cited.
There is not a single case in Guyana or elsewhere of an Adjournment Motion being allowed on disputed allegations based on press reports as opposed to proven and existing events in the nature of an emergency. In fact, Kashyap on Parliamentary Procedures states on page 787; "Press reports cannot be accepted as authoritative for purposes of Adjournment Motions." True, there have been many instances of unlawful killing. I see that in my ruling on the Adjournment Motion that the matter was serious. But the Motions were not merely about the unlawful killings but about the allegations of the late George Bacchus as reported in the press since December, 2003.
In preparing my ruling I dealt with some of these issues. I could not deal with all the issues for the reason stated above. I did not even have time to examine the Motion itself. If I had done so I would have unhesitatingly ruled it out of order for the reasons which I rejected the Private Member's Motion, set out below, which was identical to the Adjournment Motion.
On 18th March, 2004, Hon. Member Mr. Robert Corbin, submitted to me the same Motion as a Private Member's Motion, which as stated above, requires 14 days notice. He explained to me that he intended to have the motion debated the following day by seeking a suspension of the Standing Orders. I explained to Hon. Member Mr. Corbin that the Motion had to be first approved by me and then printed on a Notice Paper which had to be circulated and it did not seem to me that there would be sufficient time to complete these tasks. Nevertheless, I agreed to examine the Motion.
The Motion was hopelessly out of order. It consisted of a three page introduction in a document of three and a half pages. This in itself is contrary to the rules. But the introduction contained highly objectionable and irregular wording and material. It refers to a letter written by Hon. Member Mr. Robert Corbin to His Excellency President Bharrat Jagdeo on the 15th January, 2004, and sets out a large amount of serious but unproven allegations against 'senior government functionaries' and Hon Member Mr. Ronald Gajraj. It accused persons of carrying out killings as executioners. It asserts, without evidence, that every citizen and resident of Guyana is aware that there is a group or there are groups that appear to be targeting and executing persons. It accused His Excellency President Jagdeo of not being serious and of being engaged in a cover up. It questions the Government's legitimacy to continue in office. The entire document is in the vein. It nevertheless concedes that Hon. Member Mr. Ronald Gajraj denies the charges made against him.
Among the resolutions moved are that the National Assembly call on Hon. Member Mr. Ronald Gajraj to resign and that the National Assembly excludes him from participation in its business. It moves that the National Assembly approach the United Nations for assistance in appointing an international inquiry into the Government's involvement in state sponsored death squads.
The National Assembly does not have the power to exclude the Hon. Member Mr. Ronald Gajraj from participation in its business and is not a part of the executive with authority to deal with the United Nations in matters relating to the business of the executive.
Further, the conduct of His Excellency the President cannot be questioned except by way of a Motion for that purpose.
The language and tone in which they are framed have no place in the National Assembly of Guyana or of any other Parliament. They are so offensive to the rules of Parliamentary Practice that I am quite surprised to have received such a document from a party as experienced as the People's National Congres/Reform. I am even more surprised that it is being rationally defended as an acceptable document.
In my letter the Hon. Member Mr. Robert Corbin, I could not have dealt with all of these issues for the reasons I have already explained. But I analysed enough of the rules to demonstrate that the Motion did not qualify.
Even if it had qualified, there would have been a procedural problem which could not be overcome. If the Motion was approved it would have had to be printed and circulated on a Notice Paper. The Parliament Staff was engaged late that evening in preparing for the next day's sitting so that a Notice Paper could not be printed. Assuming that a Notice Paper could be printed, the Motion suspended the Standing Orders would have had to be moved passed before an Order Paper could be printed and circulated. This would not have been at all possible in the few hours which were available. I pointed out in my letter to the Hon. Member Mr. Corbin that the Motion, which I found to be defective, could not be corrected, printed on a Notice Paper and circulated in time to have the debate occur the following day. Hon. Member Mr. Corbin may care to explain, having regard to his unusual request, without precedent in Guyana, and having regard to his utterly defective Motion, how it would have been possible to overcome the logistical problems described above. It is to be noted that the competent Parliament Staff in relation to these matters is engaged in the business of the National Assembly during sessions.
I once again make my ruling available and invite Hon. Member Mr. Robert Corbin, and any other Member of the Opposition PNC/R, the press or the public to point out any flaw, defect or error in my reasoning or conclusion in the rulings themselves or in this statement. The textbooks which are referred to would be made available, if requested, by the Parliamentary Library.”