September 30, 2016

PPP/C likely to challenge Bill passed without majority

…Speaker did not have casting vote

By: Devina Samaroo

The Parliamentary Opposition is likely to exercise its right to move to the Courts via a constitutional motion to challenge the passage of the Tax (Amendment) Bill 2016 as declared by the House Speaker Dr Barton Scotland even though the government lacked a majority in the National Assembly.
During the 13th Sitting of the Eleventh Parliament on Friday evening, there were 32 government members present as there were 32 opposition members present. Education Minister Dr Rupert Roopnarine was absent at the time.
When the Bill was laid, government members voted in its favour while the opposition members voted against it.
Though there was a stalemate, the House Speaker declared that Bill passed.
This triggered a huge uproar from the Opposition MP’s  who protested the decision. However Dr Scotland maintained: “There was an opportunity to do then what we are doing now, all of us. It is not a question of voting in favour of the government, as we put it, it is a question of making a determination at the time it was made in one way or the other that is what happened.”
Contacted for a comment on the matter, Nandlall said the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) has not had   the opportunity to decide on a way forward as yet however, being the legal affairs expert in the Party, he will be recommending that the passage of the Bill be challenged in the Courts.
“That Bill is not passed and the President will assent to a Bill that was not passed and that Bill will not be law,” he posited.
Nandlall explained that the Bill will be challenged on the grounds that it was not passed in accordance with the law. “The Constitution lays down how Bills are to be passed in the National Assembly and every Bill that is passed in violation of that constitutional procedure would be unconstitutional and unlawful,” he expanded.
He further explained that the Court has the powers to review legislation passed by the Parliament to ensure they are constitutional.

Failed Bill
According to the former Attorney General, had the constitutional procedures been followed, the Bill would have failed as it required a majority vote.
Had the Speaker been an elected Member of Parliament (MP), he could have used his casting vote to determine whether or not the Bill will be passed.
However, Dr Scotland was chosen from civil society and not from the List of Candidates of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), therefore, he does not have a casting vote.
A failed Bill cannot be brought back in the same session of the Parliament.
Therefore, government would have had to wait until the 12th Parliament to retable the Bill.
Reflecting on the events that transpired in the National Assembly on Friday, Nandlall said it appeared as though the Speaker simply assumed there was a majority vote on the government side because their declaration was louder than the Opposition’s.
“Bills are passed by the number of votes not the decibels of the vote,” Nandlall contended, noting that the Dr Scotland wrongfully assumed that the “ayes” had the majority.

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