“The Chief Justice [CJ] gave an interpretation based on her perception of the Law and I will continue to act in accordance with my perception of the Constitution; that is to say I will not appoint somebody who I do not consider fit and proper.”
Those were the words by President David Granger on Wednesday morning in response to the ruling provided by Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire,SC, on Monday, in relation to the interpretation of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana with respect to the appointment of a Chairman at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
The Chief Justice had explained that while the Constitution states that nominees for the post of GECOM Chairman should fall into the categories of judge, former judge or someone eligible to be a judge, the first two categories are not compulsory. She also noted that the term “any other fit and proper person” allowed more space to select the six candidates, while highlighting that “there is no mandatory category.”
She also said if one of the six nominees was acceptable, one would expect that the person would be appointed to the position of GECOM Chairman as there is no need for everyone on the list to be acceptable. She said, however, that the President has the discretion to reject the entire list.
President Granger said that “I do not believe that anything that the Honourable Chief Justice said has diminished my regard for the word or the spirit of the Constitution. I do believe that the person must be independent [and] must be impartial.”
Included in Justice George-Wiltshire’s ruling on Monday was that the persons proposed for the post of GECOM Chairman must possess qualities of integrity, honesty and impartiality.
Madame George-Wilshire also advised, in her ruling, that there is no legal requirement for the President to state reasons for rejecting a list, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition, though it is her belief that in the furtherance of democracy and good governance, he should, since Article 161 (2) speaks to the need for dialogue and compromise.
Responding to questions on that call by the Chief Justice, the President said that he has a responsibility to act within the requirements of the Constitution. “If you can show me the Article of the Constitution, which requires me to give a reason, I will comply with the Constitution but I will not do what the Constitution does not require me to do,” he said.
Gaskin, a businessman and engineer, had moved to the High Court in March of this year to challenge the constitutionality of President Granger’s reasoning behind his rejection of Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo’s list of six nominees.
Gaskin, also the brother of Business Minister Dominic Gaskin, had wanted the court to determine whether Jagdeo’s list of nominees was indeed not “fit and proper” as declared by President Granger.
Granger has maintained that the list of nominees must include a judge, a retired judge or a person qualified to be a judge. On the other hand, Jagdeo has argued that the nominees do not have to be a judge-type as the Constitution makes provision for another group of persons under the category of “fit and proper”.
Thus far, two lists of six nominees each, have been found “unacceptable” by the President, while a third list by the Opposition Leader is pending.
The most recent GECOM Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally was not a judge or qualified to be a judge and neither were most of the past chairpersons. Granger had also accepted the nomination to serve as GECOM Chairman several years ago.