ARTICLE 161(2) of the Guyana Constitution allows for the application of two options in arriving at the appointment of GECOM Chairman. Option one, (outlined in paragraph one) speaks to the criteria of a judge (past, present or potential) “or any other fit and proper person,” and paragraph two allows for the appointment of a judge where there exists failure to achieve what paragraph one sets out.
Every constitutional commission must be operational and a constitutional crisis exists when any is not established. The attention paid to GECOM makes it no more important than other commissions such as the Ethnic Relations Commission and Human Rights Commission that are still to be established. These commissions contribute to day-to-day governance and the welfare of citizens and every day they are non-operational our collective well-being and the nation’s stability are being compromised.
The appointment of Justice James Patterson as chairman, though his credentials and abilities are not being questioned, only a fool would expect it not to create the fallout it has. From the inception the interpretation of Article 161 by the President was not consistent with the criteria that had informed identification of nominees and appointments of previous chairs. The court’s intervention was sought by a private citizen and it has pronounced on the specific contention and entire article.
The departure from reliance on selecting a chairman from paragraph one creates new precedence and not unexpectedly a furore, not only in the manner in which it was done, but suspicion from the inception that this was the path the President intended to pursue. Where the President by his action may have thrown gasoline on the matter, he has only himself to blame for giving the PPP fodder to refuel and recover.
It is being observed that Patterson’s age to do the job has become an issue of contention which is called ageism. Government must take some responsibility here for making claim to the said discriminatory thinking in justifying its act to withdraw the service of others. I noticed a media story on this matter mentioning the cases of Justices Cecil Kennard and Prem Persuad, along with Hamilton Green, whose services were discontinued based on this discriminatory policy.
What was also noted is the absence of Green’s picture, but the presence of Patterson, Persaud and Kennard, where in our racially charged environment opens itself for misinterpretation, playing to racial fears, and engaging in racial accusations. It too cannot be ignored the race of the nominee has attracted condemnation on the misplaced notion that given Indians are the numerical majority, it brings with it expectation that they must be at the helm of everything.
This thinking too is discriminatory and it is being reminded that prior to Patterson this position was held by only one African, i.e. Rudy Collins. Where views of such sort are being allowed expression on mainstream media blogs with no moderating attempt to set the record straight, it makes it harder to help society in placing importance on truth and treating each other with dignity and respect.
It takes very little to further rend asunder this fragile nation and we all, where interest of country and people are foremost, must be careful of what we say and do. The PPP/C has said it will not cooperate with the government due to this incident, but to a great extent the society is failing to hold the PPP accountable for its abdication of constitutional responsibilities such as the non-appointment of its representatives on state boards and the refusal to elect one of its members to be Deputy Speaker in the National Assembly, which according to the Constitution must come from the opposition. Abrogation of these duties has been premised on that party’s argument that the 2015 elections were rigged and it has been cheated out of office.
The condemnation in some quarters that democracy is now being threatened and the selective claims and fear of rigged elections because paragraph two has been applied in appointing a chairman are too ignoring elections, though important, represent an aspect of democracy and equally important to democracy is daily compliance with the Rule of Law that include practices of good governance, honouring civic duties and responsibilities, and respecting citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms.
Society is being selectively reminded of events, real or perceived, in this nation’s history which is dangerous and will continue to fuel division, ethnic/racial upmanship and a misplaced sense of superiority. The court vitiated the 1997 elections because they were fraudulent (euphemism for rigged). The Organisation of America States (OAS) deemed the 2011 elections not free from fear. In 2006, the AFC was denied its earned seat in Region 10, which GECOM erroneously awarded to the PPP. Were it not for the vigilance of Commissioner Vincent Alexander in 2011, the PPP would have again been awarded a seat by GECOM which it did not earn. Reminding the nation of 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985 must not exclude reminders of 1992, 1997, 2006 and 2011.
Instead of acknowledging the deficiencies in the system and seeking to fix them, emphasis is being placed on whipping up fear in society and refusing to hold the PPP equally accountable for electoral malpractices, clearly sending a message that some will escape accountability or their mis-steps deemed not as bad as others, when bad is bad and good is good.
In our racially polarised society, the absence of universal approach in dealing with issues will continue to hurt and divide, more than help and unite. Each and every one of us, as organisation and unit, has a social responsibility. The concentration to focus on some period and whitewash or ignore other periods is dangerous to the unity of this society.
The media have a responsibility to deliver truth and understanding and whereas they may be reporting what may be said, they carry responsibility to provide information that would help society to better understand the events and discussions at hand. There must be rejection of the comfort to solely dwell in an era when grave and worse things have been inflicted by those who are alive and should be held accountable, lest the risk of these atrocities being repeated become prevalent and some feel free from reproach.
To the PPP’s stance of non-cooperation and promised acts of public protests, let there be reminders that those who today are seeming to facilitate such conduct when Desmond Hoyte challenged the PPP government, they condemned him and labelled his act threats to democracy and destabilising to the economy. In this instance they are prepared to condemn David Granger, even as they continue to remain silent or supportive of Jagdeo’s discarding his constitutional responsibilities and acting untowardly.
It was the PPP that first refused to have engagement with this government on governance because that party’s leadership opposed Moses Nagamootoo being leader of the government’s team. One would have expected that the PPP would have respected the right of the government to identify its representatives, bring and raise issues to the table that are of concern to the party and its constituents. This seems not to be its interest as its leadership remains angry the party has been placed in the opposition benches.
Even on the issue of sugar, it refused to meaningfully participate in the commission of inquiry on the industry. Neither did the leadership bring any proposal to a stakeholders committee established to address the industry, which was headed by Khemraj Ramjattan. Instead, the nation continues to witness the pursuing of a strategy of using the supporters and sugar workers as guinea pigs to further the self-interest of a few.
At the same time Granger has to remember that he campaigned and won elections on the promise to practise the politics of inclusion and his government has a greater responsibility to work to make it possible. A conflagration, racial and political, is being courted in this society with the politics of deceit and exclusion. The media have to assist us in playing a meaningful role of tempering the desire of the provocateurs in our midst and also to avoid it.
Politicians are failing to realise for what they were elected, who elected them and are paying them, and what we would like to see of them. The masses want civil and consensus politics based on the principles that would safeguard and defend their rights, freedoms and management of their resources and business in order that their condition of life will see improvement and harmonious relations with their neighbours. The politicians seem to be forgetting this or don’t care a damn about it, and we must hold them to account for seeking to divide us and hinder/retard our development.
The PPP has communicated that it will challenge the chairman’s appointment in the court which is a step in the right direction to resolve conflict in society. At the said time, its leaders must not be insulated from performing their constitutional responsibilities and being held accountable for their stewardship of this country. There is no sacred cow, be it individual, race, party, government, etc. Once we function as members and organisations of society, all must be held to the same standards and must play by the same rules.