Jagdeo says he can submit list in 1 hour for new GECOM Chair

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In light of a recent ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that the unilateral appointment of Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman, Retired Justice James Patterson is unconstitutional, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo says that he can present a new list of nominees within an hour for President David Granger to make a new appointment.

According to the Constitution, the President is required to appoint a Chairperson for GECOM from a list of names submitted by the Opposition Leader. Back in 2017, Jagdeo had submitted three separate lists, but the Head of State rejected all 18 nominees and went ahead in October of that year to unilaterally appoint Justice Patterson as Chairman of the elections body.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

However, CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders on Tuesday ruled that Justice Patterson’s appointment was unconstitutional and that the process was “fatally flawed”.

Against this backdrop, Jagdeo posited that he was ready to submit a fourth list to President Granger for the current Chairman of the elections body to be replaced. Insisting that the Head of State must comply with the Court’s ruling, the Opposition Leader noted that there could not be a unilateral appointment when he was still willing to engage.

Only on Wednesday, President Granger maintained that he had selected a “fit and proper” person as Chairman of GECOM in accordance with the definition laid out in the Constitution. In defiance of the court’s ruling, the Head of State told reporters that the CCJ must show where the flaw was.

President David Granger

“I’ve never gone outside the Constitution. If (the Court) tell that the process is flawed, they must let me know what the flaw is! So let us wait until the 24th of June when they make some consequential rulings. There is no way I can see that decisions I’ve taken are flawed,” he posited.

However, in its ruling, the CCJ did give its reason, referencing historical facts pertaining to the previous appointments of GECOM Chairmen. Justice Saunders also cited the recommendations made by the Constitutional Reform Commission in 1999 that the Chairman should be appointed through consultations.

CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders

Further, the Judge noted that the President relied on the provisions that gave him discretionary powers and insulated him from providing an explanation for excluding the Opposition Leader from his final decision.

However, Justice Saunders pointed out that giving the President the power to reject candidates without giving reasons would frustrate what the Constitution contemplates. In fact, the Court decided that the President has a duty to give reasons for rejecting names in the interest of transparency.

To this end, the Court concluded that the most sensible approach to the process of appointing the Chairman of GECOM is for the Leader of the Opposition and the President to communicate with each other in good faith and, perhaps, even meet to discuss eligible candidates for the position of Chairman before a list is submitted formally.

The Court also recommended that moving forward, all parties work together as the Constitution envisions to select a Chairman.

On June 24, the CCJ is expected to hand down a series of consequential orders to follow its rulings on Tuesday that the no-confidence motion was validly passed on December 21, 2018 and that the appointment of the GECOM Chairman was unconstitutional.

Caribbean Court of Justice

However, Justice Saunders had encouraged that the parties come together and agree on the consequences to follow instead of having the court do so.

But Government’s spokesperson, Joseph Harmon told reporters on Thursday that that meeting would happen at a convenient time for both political leaders.

Harmon, who is the Director General at the Ministry of the Presidency, went on to note that Government was cognisant about the invitation to the Opposition Leader since it needed to first have an agenda before going into that engagement.

Jagdeo, on the other hand, told reporters at his weekly press conference on Thursday that his lawyers were working on their submissions to come to a consensus ahead of Monday’s ruling.

The Opposition Leader said that he was willing to meet the Head of State to discuss the way forward, giving effect to the court’s ruling. This, according to Jagdeo, means elections in three months and a new GECOM Chairman in place as soon as possible.