Appointment of GECOM Chairman: President now wants to submit his own nominees

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…Opposition Leader rejects proposal

One week after the Caribbean Court of Justice advised President David Granger and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo to meet and discuss the way forward on the appointment of a new Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman, the Head of State is now proposing that he submits his own list of nominees for the position.

Last week, Jagdeo had proposed daily meetings with the President to determine the way forward but it was not until Friday that the President, through the Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon, responded to the Opposition Leader’s letter.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo and President David Granger

In the letter, Harmon proposed on President David Granger’s behalf that he be allowed to nominate persons for the position of GECOM Chairman.

Harmon based this reasoning on the Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ’s) request that the two sides meet and discuss eligible candidates. Harmon also suggested Jagdeo consider this before a date for his meeting with the President is set.

“The Government interpreted [the CCJ’s ruling] to mean that both the President and Leader of the Opposition will provide nominees on the list of six persons. It is hoped that the Leader of the Opposition could quickly communicate his view on this issue before a date for the meeting with the President is finalised,” Harmon wrote.

Rejected

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP), through its executive member Gail Teixeira, wasted little time in responding to Harmon’s letter. In a missive dated the same day as the President’s letter, Teixeira rejected the proposal.

Teixeira pointed out that Article 161 of the Constitution makes it the Opposition Leader’s job to submit names to the President, not the other way around. She noted that to do otherwise would be a case of the President usurping the Opposition Leader’s role.

“The Leader of the Opposition wishes to remind that the Caribbean Court of Justice, in its recent judgment, in interpreting Article 161 (2) of the Constitution, examined the letter, spirit and intendment of that Article. Therefore, the judgement of the Court must be construed as giving obeisance to the Article, rather than derogating from it.”

“In this regard, it was never a matter of controversy that the list of six names must emanate from the Leader of the Opposition and the appointment of one therefrom, is exclusively the remit of the President,” Teixeira also wrote.

Guidance

The former Chief Whip also noted that the CCJ was merely providing guidance on how to conduct the engagement with the two sides. Notwithstanding this, however, Teixeira informed Harmon that the Opposition Leader was open to the President suggesting names, informally. Article 161 (2) of the Constitution states that “…the Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or who has held office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge, or any other fit and proper person…”

It goes on to outline the process by which the Chairman is appointed, stating that the Chairman is “to be appointed by the President from a list of six persons, not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition after meaningful consultation (between) political parties represented in the National Assembly”.

Last week, former GECOM Chairman, Retired Justice James Patterson officially stepped down from the position. His appointment was deemed unconstitutional by the CCJ, which noted that President Granger stepped outside of the Constitution when he appointed Patterson.

In its judgement on this matter, the CCJ had said clearly that “once the President and the Leader of the Opposition have hammered out a list of names not unacceptable to the President, the list, comprising the six persons, must then formally be submitted to the President by the Leader of the Opposition and the President must then select the Chairman from among those names”.

While explaining the consensual process to appoint the GECOM Chairman, the CCJ went on to advise that “This approach gives the President a role in the identification of the six names, but it obviates [eliminates] the possibility that after the formal presentation of the list, the President could suggest that one or more of the names or indeed the entire list, is unacceptable”.

To, therefore, have the Government claim that the CCJ intended for President Granger to himself submit names has some observers questioning the Government’s sincerity in wanting to work with the Opposition to appoint a Chairman of GECOM the right way.

All parties involved are expected back at the CCJ on June 12, where the Trinidad-based court will hand down consequential orders. Most importantly, these orders will decide when constitutionally due elections are to be held in Guyana.