… AG unprepared, requests more time for interpretation of Constitution – Nandlall
The much anticipated meeting between Government and Opposition representatives to iron out the interpretation of the Constitution with regards to the appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) got underway on Wednesday and was proven to be unfruitful.
The Opposition appointed Attorneys – Priya Manickchand and former Attorney General Anil Nandlall – met with Attorney General Basil Williams SC, following a proposal made by President David Granger to Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, for legal minds from the two sides to meet and discuss the appointment of a GECOM Chairman.
When contacted on Wednesday, Attorney General Williams told Guyana Times that during the meeting, he heard submissions by Nandlall and asked for some time to review the submissions in order to arrive at a proper conclusion.
“I spoke with Mr Nandlall respectfully, he made his contention and he cited authorities; and I said I’ll take what you say safely by reading the authorities and then we’ll respond to his submissions,” Williams stated.
In a statement released later to the media, Williams posited “I could have indicated to him when you look at constrained, the provisions, one: “there shall” – it’s mandatory it tells that you must first look at the mandatory provisions, which deal with descending order: judge, retired judge, person who could be appointed a judge, who is qualified to be a judge and the …any other fit and proper person and so I could have done that and said, ‘Well I don’t agree with your interpretation but I’m doing better than that because it’s not a question of Mr. Nandlall and I. It’s a question of the people of Guyana and the question of the proper law to be applied for the future in relation these matters.”
Meanwhile, in a statement to the media, Nandlall disclosed that during the meeting, the Opposition lawyers proffered their interpretation of Article 161 of the Constitution, in writing, and supported their position with a number of case law authorities from Guyana, the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.
However, Nandall pointed out that the Attorney General was “unprepared” to put forward his or the Government’s interpretation of Article 161 of the Constitution, despite several requests for him to do so.
“Instead, he indicated that he will need time to interpret our contentions and prepare his response. All of the interpretations offered by us (Wednesday) were fully and publicly ventilated in the media… I am disappointed by the lack of preparedness of the Attorney General, which resulted in nothing tangible emerging from the engagement,” the former AG asserted.
Nandlall went on to say in his statement that “Quite frankly, I was hoping that the Attorney General would have been ready with his position on the matter today (Wednesday); that may have resulted in this matter being concluded with dispatch and decisively. In the meanwhile, Guyana’s democracy continues to hang in the balance.”
Moreover, Nandlall stated that the Attorney General could not identify a date for a second engagement on the issue, which the Opposition considers a matter of great national importance. “The meeting ended with the Attorney General being unable to identify another date available in his diary for us to meet again,” he noted.
Last week, President David Granger said he is anxiously awaiting the outcome of dialogue between the two sides.
“I’m anxious to move ahead, it’s a constitutional office… I have asked them to meet and see in what ways we can have a common interpretation of the Constitution. In the final analysis, it’s a constitutional matter and I felt that the Constitution was quite clear so if there was any opaqueness or obscurity, I hope that the meeting between the two Attorneys would clarify that,” the President asserted.
The Head of State further maintained that he was correct in his interpretation of the Constitution that the nominees for GECOM chairmanship must be a judge or have qualifications equivalent to that of a judge.
“…as I said, my interpretation of the Constitution was quite clear. I’m not saying that the person has to be a judge, but if you read the whole article of that Constitution, it intends that the person must possess certain qualities and we are looking for those qualities,” he posited.
The controversy on the matter revolves around the different interpretations of the Opposition Leader and the Government on Article 161 (2) on the appointment of a new GECOM Chairman.
The Opposition’s understanding conforms to the updated Constitution which incorporates the Carter formula to have a democratic process for the appointment of a chairman.
Granger’s interpretation, on the other hand, seems to reflect the old 1980 Constitution which limits the pool of persons to be appointed to GECOM’s helm to only judges or those eligible to be a judge.