GECOM Chair: Berbice Bar Association calls for President to rescind unilateral appointment

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-Association of Women Lawyers says Constitutional reform must be embarked upon

The Berbice Bar Association has now added its voice to several other bodies, condemning the unilateral appointment of retired Justice James Patterson as the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson but, took it one step further by calling on the President to “immediately” rescind his decision.

President David Granger swearing in Justice (Retd) James Patterson to the post of GECOM Chairman last Thursday night

According to the Association  the “appointment flies in the face of article 161 Of the Constitution of Guyana, the country’s supreme law and is contemptuous of the ruling of the acting Chief Justice Madam Roxanne George in the case of Marcel Gaskin against the Attorney General.”

Noting that the Opposition leader, Dr Bharat Jagdeo, submitted three lists of 18 “eminently qualified” persons and taking into consideration that the Constitution provides for a unilateral selection only if the Opposition leader fails to provide a list , the Association said that there “were no reasons nor grounds therefore for the President to invoke the proviso of article 161(2) of the Constitution and unilaterally appoint a chairman.”

Additionally the Association says it is deeply concerned “that despite the court being clear that reasons must be given in the event of a rejection of names, the President has failed, refused and neglected to comply with that ruling. What is the example being set for ordinary citizens regarding complying with decisions of the court? His Excellency, the President, must lead by example by respecting the rule of law. In that way, the ordinary citizens would be expected to do the same.”

Meanwhile, The Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL), over the weekend, registered its “disappointment that a candidate for the position of Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was not arrived at by consensus as envisaged by the Constitution of Guyana.”

The GAWL, in congruence with the Berbice Bar Association and the Bar Council, also found it regrettable that “the reason or reasons indicating the bases for which the names submitted were found to be unacceptable were not previously provided and expect that these would soon be forthcoming.”

“It is unfortunate that an approach which would have provided greater clarity and transparency to this process of national importance was abandoned and in the circumstances the GAWL urges that the process of constitutional reform be embarked upon at the earliest opportunity to address this and other issues” said the GAWL.

See the Berbice Bar Association’s full statement below:

The Berbice Bar Association strongly condemns the unilateral appointment, by President David Granger, of retired Justice James Patterson to be the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.

The appointment flies in the face of article 161 Of the Constitution of Guyana, the country’s supreme law and is contemptuous of the ruling of the acting Chief Justice Madam Roxanne George in the case of Marcel Gaskin against the Attorney General.

Article 161 of the Constitution is clear in its prescription of how a chairman is to be appointed. The President shall choose a chairman from a list of names that is submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. If the Leader of the opposition fails to submit such a list only then the President may unilaterally appoint a Chairman.

It is public knowledge that the Leader of the Opposition has submitted to the President, the names of eighteen (18) persons, many of whom are eminently qualified and certainly who are more qualified than the present appointee.

There were no reasons nor grounds therefore for the President to invoke the proviso of article 161(2) of the Constitution and unilaterally appoint a chairman. Indeed, in the decision of Justice George, the Honourable Judge deemed of “academic significance” only her interpretation of the proviso which allows the President to unilaterally appoint a chairman, as lists and amended lists had been submitted by the Leader of the Opposition as provided for in the Constitution.

Additionally the Association is deeply concerned that despite the court being clear that reasons must be given in the event of a rejection of names, the President has failed, refused and neglected to comply with that ruling. What is the example being set for ordinary citizens regarding complying with decisions of the court? His Excellency, the President, must lead by example by respecting the rule of law. In that way, the ordinary citizens would be expected to do the same.

The indecent haste in which this appointment was made and without respect for and in total disregard of the Opposition Leader and people of Guyana, does not augur well for our fledgling Democracy. There is no reasonable or legal justification for the extreme haste in which this appointment was made.

We are worried about the effect of the President’s unilateral appointment of Justice Patterson on the social, economic and political stability of our country—all matters that will affect in various ways every single citizen of Guyana.

The Association is also concerned about the apparent effects of the advanced age of Justice Patterson vis a vis the upcoming local government and national and regional elections.  Will the retired Justice be able to carry out and perform all the rigorous duties associated with the Chairmanship and if he is unable to do so what will be the impact on our fledgling democracy.

The Association stridently calls on His Excellency President Granger for an immediate rescission of the appointment of Justice James Patterson. The Association demands that the President heed the spirit and intent of the constitutionally enshrined Carter- Price formula of appointing a chairperson to GECOM and immediately collaborate with the Leader of the Opposition to arrive at a fit and proper person for appointment to the said post.

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