Unilateral appointment of GECOM Chair makes no political sense – WPA executive– questions President’s lack of meaningful consultation with coalition partners
October 23, 2017
guyana times October 23, 2017
By Jarryl Bryan
While it is not against the Constitution of Guyana to so do, the unilateral appointment of retired Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is a “politically senseless” move.
This is according to political commentator and Working People’s Alliance (WPA) member Dr. David Hinds. Zeroing in on the controversial appointment by President David Granger, he affirmed that Government should always avoid authoritarian-like decisions.
Instead of the unilateral appointment, Hinds said, the President should have continued to work with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo. He said that instead of the process being pushed to unilateral action, Granger in fact pre-empted that process.
“I felt that while it (Patterson’s appointment) would be beneficial to the President’s partisan interests, it would, in the broader scheme of things, be counter-productive. The President and his government needed to find a way short of unilateral action to get the person they want,” Hinds stated.
Hinds also questioned the level of consultation Granger had with the main parties comprising the coalition – the Alliance for Change (AFC) and the Working People’s Alliance (WPA). This comes after the AFC released a statement saying that while it supported the President’s decision, it was in no way involved in the process.
“It was not helpful that the AFC has revealed that it was not consulted on this decision. I am sure the President would say that the AFC leader was consulted, since he was present at the meeting with Mr Jagdeo,” Hinds argued.
“I doubt that the WPA was consulted. Maybe the PNC, as a party, was consulted. In any case, once again we come face to face with the problem of little or no meaningful consultation within the coalition outside of the Cabinet. My views on this are well known.”
Retired Justice James Patterson, currently a legal advisor in the Ministry of Legal Affairs, 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.
What the law says
According to Article 161 (2), (Amendment) of the Constitution of Guyana, “The Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds, or who has held, office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth, or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court, or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge, or any other fit and proper person, to be appointed by the President from a list of six persons not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition after meaningful consultation with the non-governmental political parties represented in the National Assembly.
“Provided that the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for, the President shall appoint a person who holds or has held office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth, or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court, or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge.”
Three lists of nominees were in fact submitted by the Opposition Leader in the run-up to Patterson’s appointment. The first list, submitted in December of last year, had contained the following nominees: Governance and Conflict Resolution Specialist Lawrence Lachmansingh; Attorney-at-Law and outspoken anti-corruption advocate Christopher Ram; Retired Major General Norman Mc Lean; Business Executive Ramesh Dookhoo; Businesswoman Rhyaan Shah, and History Professor James Rose.
The second list, submitted in May of 2017, read as follows: Retired Justice of Appeal BS Roy; Retired Justice William Ramlal; Former Magistrate OneidgeWalrond-Allicock; Attorneys Kashir Khan and Nadia Sagar, and Captain Gerald Gouveia.
The third list of nominees comprised former GECOM Chairman and retired Army Major-General, Joseph Singh; Attorneys Teni Housty and SanjeevDatadin; vocal conservationist Annette Arjune-Martins; Onesi La Fleur, and Krishnadatt Persaud
Businessman and engineer Marcel Gaskin had, in March of this year, moved to the High Court to challenge the constitutionality of President Granger’s reasoning behind his rejection of the list of nominees.
In July, Chief Justice Roxanne George, SC, overruled the President’s interpretation of the Constitution regarding the appointment of a Chairman for GECOM, finding that there is no particular preference for the appointment of persons within the Judiciary.
In her determination, Justice George found that there was no valid argument to support the idea that the Chairman should be a judge, former judge, or person eligible to be a judge; and noted that persons from each category were equally eligible for the post.
She had also found that Granger is required to give reasons for his rejection of any name submitted to him, and his failure to so do could be subject to judicial review. To date, Granger has not provided details on why the 18 nominees were unfit for the GECOM Chairmanship.