…in defence of President’s unilateral appointment
Following widespread condemnation of the President’s appointment of Justice (rtd) James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Thursday, the Minister of legal Affairs and Attorney General Basil Williams said President David Granger used his prerogative to reject the list and independently appoint a “fit and proper person.”
The Attorney General used excerpts from the acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire’s ruling [Marcel v AG] to defend the President’s move to unilaterally appoint Patterson to the post.
Attorney General Williams in citing the Chief Justice’s ruling pointed to the section which reads, “Resort to the proviso to Article 161(2) which permits the President to act independently to appoint a person of the Judicial category to be the Chairman of GECOM, that is a person who is presumptively fit and proper.”
The matter which was addressed tangentially by the Chief Justice essentially said if the persons on the first list are not found to be acceptable, then the President could go ahead and appoint a person from the category he identified, namely Judges, former Judges or persons eligible to be appointed Judges.
According to the Attorney General, “It is in the light of these premises His Excellency appointed the Hon. Justice Patterson as a fit and proper person to the office of GECOM Chairman.”
In the acting Chief Justice’s ruling, it was pointed out that her interpretation in this case was simply academic, since there have already been requests on the part of the President for subsequent lists, with three in total being provided by the Opposition Leader, Dr Bharat Jagdeo.
The Attorney General in defending the President’s action also addressed the demands from varying bodies calling for reasons for the rejection of the 18 names that were submitted by the Opposition Leader. According to Williams, Granger after rejecting the first list did on request provide a list of criteria or characteristics that would make listed persons acceptable to him.
The Chief Justice had ruled that “the Leader of the Opposition and others for that matter, may not agree with the reasons given, but they must be given so that the parameters for the submission of another list, if required would be set.”
The Attorney general in providing the reasons that would make the names acceptable to President Granger listed:
- That person is deemed to have wide electoral knowledge, capable of handling electoral matters because he or she is qualified to exercise unlimited jurisdiction in civil matters,
- He or she will discharge their functions without fear or favour, that is, they will not allow any person or organisation to bulldoze or influence them to compromise their neutrality,
- This person will discharge their functions neutrally between the 2 opposing parties as they would have done in Court between 2 opposing litigants,
- The person will not be an activist in any form (gender, racial, theological, religious etc.),
- They should not have any political affiliation or belong to any political party in any form, apparent or hidden, and
- They should have a general character of honesty, integrity, faithfulness, diligence and fear of God in the discharge of their duty as Chairman.
According to Minister Williams, “the names of the listed persons in the final list have not conformed to these criteria.”
Jagdeo’s third list of nominees included retired Major General Joseph Singh, Attorney-at -law Teni Housty, Attorney-at -law Sanjeev Datadin, Ms Annette Arjoon-Martins, Onesi La Fleur and Krishnadatt Persaud.
Meanwhile, the People’s National Congress (PNC), the major party in the coalition APNU/AFC Government, and its various arms such as the Guyana Youth and Student Movement (GYSM), the National Congress of Women (NCW) as well as the General Secretary for the party, Minister and Member of Parliament, Amna Ally all supported the President’s decision to unilaterally appoint Justice Patterson as the GECOM Chair.