Below is an opinion piece done by Attorney-at-law, Member of Parliament and former Attorney General, Mohabir Anil Nandlall:
I observe with mixed emotions, the sentiments expressed by retired Justice James Patterson, the Chairman of The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), as reported in the Press, recently. Justice Patterson has boldly mounted the horse of morality and integrity and has accused politicians of using the race card. He accused the Judiciary of becoming “a tool of disruption” and expresses the hope that a member of the legal profession might mount a challenge against “the misuse of the legal system.” He also posits: “that the Commission has been experiencing at every turn designs and machinations to stymie the elections coming fore… It is self-evident that the objective is to stall the forthcoming elections.”
These are both profound and courageous contentions for anyone to advance, more so, Justice Patterson. The truth of the matter is that a major part of the problems at GECOM is Mr. Justice Patterson himself, having regard to manner of and circumstances under which he was unilaterally imposed as the Chairman of GECOM by the President. Both him and the process by which he was appointed were widely and condignly condemned by almost every major organisation/public commentator in this country other than the President, the Government and the political outfit which he heads. In short, a majority of the electorate have already demonstrated their public mistrust of Justice Patterson.
One cannot forget the inaccurate assertion on his CV that he was appointed the Chief Justice of Grenada. One cannot forget that after reviewing the resume of 18 outstanding Guyanese, for a period spanning nearly a year, the President rejected them all as “unfit and improper” and proceeded to appoint Justice Patterson during the darkest night in 2017. Minutes after his swearing-in, Mr. Justice Patterson, himself, confirmed to the Press that only a few hours prior, he was invited to submit his résumé. So just after a few hours of reviewing his résumé, the President found him to be fit and proper but rejected 18 qualified Guyanese after reviewing their résumés for several months. Fortunately, the appointment is the subject of an ongoing legal challenge now at the Court of Appeal.
Since his controversial appointment, Justice Patterson has done nothing to boost public confidence in him. It cannot be a mere coincidence that on every occasion that his casting vote was required at GECOM, he cast it in favour of the Government Commissioners. It cannot be mere coincidence that he refused to meet with UNDP whose only interest was to contribute expert human resources to improve the IT Department at GECOM and to assist in a number of other ways to strengthen the integrity of the electoral machinery. Any conscientious chairman would have happily embraced such assistance.
It is against that backdrop that Mr. Justice Patterson’s comments must be examined. I am not surprised that he has invoked the oldest trick in the book of accusing those who called for greater ethnic diversity at GECOM, of racism. It is a well-trodden track in this country with which we are all familiar. Neither am I surprised that his position coincides, identically, with the PNC’s public posture on this issue. I can appreciate his abhorrence to resorts to the Courts. After all, his own appointment constitutes one. However, in a democratic society one’s right to approach the Court to seek redress against the infringement of the Constitution and the laws of the land, whether real or perceived, is a fundamental one. Anyone who regards the justice system and access to the justice system by the citizenry as a “tool of disruption”, is innately and inherently autocratic and authoritarian. Such a person has no place close to an organisation like GECOM, more so to head it. What other matters relative to GECOM have been referred to the Courts?
I set them out hereunder.
- An Elections Petition challenging the validity of the 2015 General and Regional Elections. To do so, is the undoubted right of any registered elector of this land. Other than the 2011 Elections, every elections since independence in this country has attracted an Elections Petition.
- A challenge has been field against the creation of new Local Authority Areas and the alteration of external and internal boundaries within existing Local Authority Areas on the grounds that the relevant statutory procedures have not been followed and the stakeholders, including the political parties and the electors, have not been consulted. Is it the Chairman’s view that the actions of the Minister and the Chief Elections Officer beyond the review of the Courts; that they are infallible? Are the political parties and the electors not entitled to be consulted in the process?
- The latest challenge seeks to remove from the lists of certain political parties, the names of those whom have contended that their signatures were fraudulently procured or forged and placed on those lists. Are these not serious allegations? Yet the Chief Elections Officer refused to remove these names from the lists or even to investigate the allegations. Is the Chairman comfortable with such state of affairs? Should he not be most anxious to have these matters conclusively determined in a Court of law, in the interest of preserving and promoting the integrity of the organisation which he heads?
The Press also reports Justice Patterson as saying “These are troubling times for elections in Guyana.” Having regard to what I have said above, to that statement, I offer my absolute concurrence.