– FITUG calls for Guyanese to oppose move
– Private Sector condemns decision as ‘dangerous’
As the fallout continues from the shocking appointment on Thursday evening of former Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), both civil society and trade unions have come out in strong opposition to slam the decision.
Pulling no punches, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) in a release on Friday condemned the decision as “dangerous” and a threat to democracy. It expressed regret that an agreement could not be reached between the opposing sides for a successor to former Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally.
“The Private Sector Commission, throughout the entire process of exchange between the President and the Leader of the Opposition, had hoped that the appointment of the Chairman of GECOM would continue in an open and transparent manner and in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution.”
“The decision of the President to act unilaterally and independently of the submissions of the Leader of the Opposition poses a clear threat to democracy and will inevitably divide the nation and lead to economic instability,” the PSC stated, adding that “It is a dangerous decision.”
Meanwhile, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) came out harshly against the move. Describing the decision as shocking, the Union slammed the decision as a threat to democratic gains made over time.
“The President, who must have been advised by his comrades, is heading down a perilous path which we believe is not in the interest of our country and all Guyanese. It is our view that the President’s actions represent a reversal of the democratic advances we have made over the years.”
“The FITUG believes that the newly-appointed GECOM Chairman, as matured and qualified as he may be, would have started out on a wrong footing and may well find it extra-ordinarily challenging to perform or receive the same level of acceptance, internally or externally, as enjoyed by his predecessors.”
According to FITUG, Patterson’s appointment is a “slap in the face” of persons who struggled for a return to democracy. The unions noted that some of those very individuals now sit in Government and questioned their silence.
“We believe the unilateral appointment cannot stand up to any test of scrutiny and no justification can excuse the President’s decision on this matter. President Granger, we believe, had a more than ample choice to select from among the suitable nominees put forward by Mr Jagdeo… a GECOM Chairman who would have enjoyed the respect and confidence of all Guyanese.”
“The fact that the President has chosen to act outside of the list he received is not reflective of a commitment to protecting and advancing our democratic culture, something he as President is charged with upholding. Furthermore, it gives rise to the notion that Mr Granger was simply engaged in a charade regarding the appointment of the GECOM Chairman.”
FITUG also expressed concern that the act would revert Guyana to “a time we left behind” and noted that the appointment in fact reflected poorly on President Granger.
“We roundly and loudly condemn this move which does not portend for a bright future and a good life. We see it as walking back to a time we need not relive and experience again. We call on all Guyanese to raise their voices against this travesty and this attack on our democracy,” the party added.
Patterson, currently a legal advisor in the Legal Affairs Ministry, was sworn in a few hours after President Granger met briefly with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo. According to the Head of State, his decision to select a GECOM Chairman was done in accordance with Article 161 of the Constitution for the appointment of a GECOM Chairman.
Granger said he informed Jagdeo during their meeting that he found that the third list of nominees submitted on August 25, 2017 was unacceptable within the meaning of the Constitution and that he had also paid careful attention to the ruling of the Chief Justice Acting Roxanne George-Wiltshire.
In justifying why he decided to hand pick 84-year-old Justice Patterson for this position, the President said it is because of his extensive experience as a former Chief Justice of Grenada. “He has long judicial service and we feel that he is a fit and proper person. So it’s important for the reason I mentioned, that we bring this to an end and continue with the business of Guyana,” he added.
The decision has not gone down well with the political Opposition. During a press conference on Thursday, Jagdeo announced that his party would be withdrawing its support from any form of cooperation with Government and would also mount a legal challenge to the appointment.
In addition to expressing his intention to raise the matter with the diplomatic community, Jagdeo indicted that the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) will be calling on its support base countrywide for the national boycott.