GECOM Chair: President says Constitution does not require him to give reasons for rejecting nominees

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…says Chief Justice’s ruling not “enforced to me”

By Ramona Luthi

In light of significant members in society calling on President David Granger to provide reasons for his rejection of the three lists- equivalent to 18 nominees- submitted by the Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo for the post of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman, the Head of State said on Monday that the Constitution does not mandate him to do so.

“I do not know that that requirement is enshrined in the constitution… I have not seen anything in the Constitution which requires me. I know the Chief Justice has made certain statements but I intend not to contradict the Chief Justice but I have not been advised that that is a requirement which is enforced to me,” he told media operatives earlier today at State House.

Furthermore, Granger indicated that one needs to be careful in providing reasons of this nature, “Guyana is a small country and we have to be very careful about these judgements about persons’ character and their capabilities and I have to be advised,” he explained.

President David Granger presents the Instrument of Appointment as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to Justice Patterson at State House

Following the resignation of the previous GECOM Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, last year, the Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo submitted his first list of nominees for the post during the latter part of 2016.

The list included former Army Chief, Norman Mc Lean, attorney and Chartered accountant, Christopher Ram, former Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, Ramesh Dookhoo, Peace and Governance Consultant, Lawrence Lachmansingh, Businesswoman, Rhyaan Shah and Professor Dr James Rose.

However, President Granger found the list to be “unacceptable.” It was later revealed that he had a different interpretation of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana with regards to the appointment of a GECOM Chairman.

The President had maintained 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…”

The Opposition had articulated against the President’s interpretation of  Article 161 (2).

Avoiding an impasse,  the process continued and Jagdeo submitted the second list of names including Justice of Appeal B.S Roy (ret’d),  Justice William Ramlall (ret’d), Ms Oneidge Walrond-Allicock, Attorney-at-law and a former Magistrate,  Kashir Khan, Attorney-at-law,  Ms Nadia Sagar, Attorney-at-law, and Captain Gerald Gouveia.

Again, President Granger labelled this list unacceptable.

As such, businessman Marcel Gaskin had moved to the court to seek clarity on the constitutional requirement for the appointment of a GECOM Chairperson.

Earlier this year, acting Chief Justice Roxanne George ruled against President Granger’s interpretation of Guyana’s Constitution for the appointment of a GECOM chairperson, saying that there was no preference for judicial persons.

Justice George in her ruling also outlined that the President needed to give good reasons for rejecting all or any nominees. This, she said, will be in furtherance of democracy and good governance.

Should the Head of State present his reasons for rejecting the nominees, it would give an indication of who is acceptable, the acting Chief Justice had said.

In response to the ruling, President Granger had said that the Chief Justice gave her interpretation of the law and he would continue to follow his “interpretation” of the Constitution.

Nevertheless, Jagdeo submitted his third list of nominees which 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.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo vowed to oppose Patterson’s appointment

On Thursday last, following a meeting with the Opposition Leader, the President rejected the third list. Hours later, he unilaterally selected 84-year-old James Patterson, a retired High Court Judge, who held the position of the legal advisor to the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, to be sworn in as the new GECOM Chairman.

On Saturday last, the Bar Council of the Guyana Bar Association had condemned President Granger’s  decision to unilaterally appoint Justice Patterson as the new GECOM chairperson stating that the appointment “can lead to a loss of public confidence in the electoral process which is entirely undesirable having regard to Guyana’s experience in past elections.”

The Council had said that it expected, “in keeping with the ruling of Chief Justice George in the matter of Marcel Gaskin against the Attorney General, the President will provide reasons for the rejection of the eighteen [18] names submitted to him by the Leader of the Opposition as prospective candidates for appointment.”

Moreover, the Bar Council had posited that justification should also be provided “to avoid the necessity of further litigation on this issue on its part.”

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