With GECOM to begin preparing next year to hold Local Government Elections (LGE) in 2019, British High Commissioner Gregory Quinn is calling on local authorities to appoint a Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as soon as possible.
The British diplomat told reporters on Thursday that the appointment of a GECOM chairman should be fast tracked. “I think next year, 2018, is gonna be fairly a crunch year to make sure all the preparations for 2019 are in place… The sooner we get a chairman for GECOM in place, the better it is going to be for that process,” Quinn expressed.
President David Granger has already rejected two lists of nominees for the position of GECOM Chairman submitted by Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, who has since agreed to compile a third list.
Last month, Jagdeo told reporters that he was in the final stages of preparing a third list of nominees for the GECOM Chairmanship post. “I had committed to submitting a third list publically and with the President, and I believe that I should continue with that process… (And) I am hoping that from this third list, someone would be chosen, and then it would become a moot issue,” Jagdeo had stated.
However, the Opposition Leader explained that while he is committed to submitting the third list, persons are skeptical about having their names put forward as nominees because they do not want to be considered unsuitable.
Nevertheless, Jagdeo noted that should President Granger deem this new list of names unacceptable, there is a process agreed upon to ensure that a suitable candidate is appointed.
President Granger has been holding strong that Article 161 (2) of the Constitution of Guyana prescribes for the Chairman of the Elections Commission to be “a person who holds or who has held office as a judge of a court…or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge, or any other fit and proper person…”
Having interpreted “fit and proper” to mean any group of qualified persons, the Opposition Leader in December submitted his first list, nominating the following persons: Attorney Christopher Ram, Conflict Resolution Specialist Lawrence Lachmansingh, (retired) Major General Norman McLean, Business executive Ramesh Dookhoo, Indian Rights Activist Rhyaan Shah, and History Professor James Rose for the post at the helm of GECOM.
The Head of State rejected the list, saying that the nominees have to be a judge, retired judge, or possess qualifications to be a judge, as well as not be an activist or member of any political party.
Following weeks of impasse, Jagdeo finally agreed to return to the drawing board, and submitted a new list of nominees, comprising: retired Justice of Appeal BS Roy; retired Justice William Ramlall; former Magistrate Oneidge Walrond-Allicock; Attorneys Kashir Khan and Nadia Sagar; and businessman and pilot, Captain Gerald Gouveia.
President Granger rejected this second list as well, saying it was “unacceptable” and that ALL of the nominees should be a judge, retired judge, or qualified to be a judge. The President has argued that he needs to have options on the list, so all of the nominees have to be qualified within his outlined criteria.
In the meantime, local businessman Marcel Gaskin had moved to the High Court back in March to challenge the constitutionality of President David Granger’s reasoning behind his rejection of the Opposition Leader’s first list of six nominees for the GECOM Chairmanship post.
In the court action, Gaskin sought from the Court a declaratory order on the meaning of Article 161(2). The businessman, who is the brother of Business Minister Dominic Gaskin, wanted to know whether the list of nominees to be submitted by the Opposition Leader must include a judge, a retired judge or a person qualified to be a judge, as being claimed by the President.
Acting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire, SC, overruled the President’s interpretation of the Constitution, finding that there is no particular preference for the appointment of persons within the Judiciary for the GECOM chairmanship.
In her determination, Justice George-Wiltshire found that there was no valid argument to support the idea that the Chairman should be a judge, former judge, or person eligible to be a judge; and noted that persons from each category are equally eligible for the post.
The Chief Justice pointed out that the word “any” in the other category, “…any other fit and proper person”, widens the category, and “does not restrict the qualification or profession” from which the nominee should be drawn. She added that there was no mandatory category, and all the categories have equal weight.