Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has indicated that he is one step closer to submitting a new list of nominees to President David Granger for his consideration for the post of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Jagdeo, at a press conference today, at Freedom House, disclosed to media operatives that the consultations with the shortlisted persons have already begun and he expects to conclude this process soon. However, he asserted that he does not want to pronounce on a specific time since discussions with some candidates might take longer than anticipated.
“If I can go through the process by the end of the week, then by Monday, but I don’t want to say that [because] in consulting with people, you also have to understand they need time too,” he explained.
The names of the shortlisted candidates –some of which were printed in the State newspaper- were not disclosed to the media as Jagdeo said; “it would be premature to confirm those are the names I spoke to, or to submit as part of the final group of six.”
Last year, Jagdeo had submitted his first list of nominees after extensive consultations with various stakeholders for the position of GECOM Chairman. These names included; Governance and Conflict Resolution Specialist, Lawrence Lachmansingh; Attorney-at-Law and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram; businesswoman and former broadcast executive, Rhyaan Shah; Retired Major General, Norman Mc Lean; Business Executive, Ramesh Dookhoo and History Professor, James Rose.
However, in January, 2017 the President officially responded to the Leader of the Opposition, stating that the nominees submitted for consideration for the post were “unacceptable”.
Granger had justified his decision to refuse the list of nominees submitted by Jagdeo, stating that Guyana’s Constitution asserts that a current or sitting judge or someone eligible to be a judge in Guyana or the Commonwealth Caribbean is preferred to be appointed as Chairman of the electoral body.
But, Legal luminary Anil Nandlall, who also served in the capacity of Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs under the previous administration, explained that the Constitution clearly contemplates two categories of persons for the post: “Firstly, a High Court judge or an Appellate Court judge, a former High Court or an Appellate Court judge or a person qualified to be a High Court or an Appellate Court judge. Secondly, or (disjunctive), any “fit and proper” person. However, from whichever category the persons come, they must be acceptable to the President,” Nandlall had said in a statement to the media shortly after the President’s announcement.
In this regard, he had contended that the President’s rejection of the names on the grounds that the persons did not meet the constitutional requirements was “wholly untenable” and the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) would explore its available options including moving to the Courts to challenge the president’s decision.
Granger, who is a longstanding member of the People’s National Congress, had accepted the nomination to serve as GECOM Chairman several years ago.
Both sides have been very vocal on the issue, with the President stating that what obtained in the past was a mistake and the right way was now being chartered, while the Opposition posited that Government could be looking to unilaterally appoint someone who would be beneficial to the APNU-AFC coalition, especially in the run up to 2020 elections.
However, the President’s interpretation of the Constitution received more flack than those opposing it.
One such person who disagreed with his interpretation was the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) General Secretary Lincoln Lewis.
Lewis had highlighted that the Constitution indeed provides for suitable persons outside the realm of judges or those qualified to be judges to be appointed as GECOM Chairman. He also alluded to the appointments of past Chairmen of GECOM, including Dr Surujbally who recently retired from the post, leaving the seat vacant.
Nevertheless, a team was established to meet with the Attorney General, Basil Williams, SC, as it pertained to the interpretation of Article 161 (2) but both meetings proved to be unfruitful.
With no end to the stalemate in sight, Jagdeo agreed to provide the President with a new list of nominees. As such, it has been reported in the media that the second list of potential GECOM nominees include; Retired Justices Claudette Singh and B.S. Roy; PPP Member of Parliament and GECOM commissioner, Bibi Shadick; Attorneys Timothy Jonas and Kashir Khan and environmentalist, Annette Arjoon-Martins.