After months of back and forth, it appearing as if the appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) will not be agreed upon by the President and the Leader of the Opposition anytime soon. Even though they both have expressed a desire to see the process come to finality soon, the signals coming from both camps indicate that they are very convinced with their own interpretation of the Constitution regarding such appointment.
In his most recent comment on the matter, President David Granger said he sees no reason for any difficulty in finding suitable nominees for the post. In fact he was quoted by the media as saying there are lots of Guyanese who meet the new criteria set out by him to guide the Opposition Leader in compiling a new list of potential candidates, noting that the Constitution was written in a way to emphasise the qualities which he has asked for.
After rejecting the initial list submitted by the Opposition Leader, the President had outlined the qualities that the nominees for the GECOM Chairmanship should possess. The new criteria state that the candidate should be qualified to be a Judge of the High Court, or should have been an attorney for a minimum of seven years. In the absence of those requirements, the President has said, any other “fit and proper person” could be considered, providing he/she is deemed to have wide electoral knowledge and is capable of handling electoral matters, since he/she is qualified to exercise unlimited jurisdiction in civil matters.
For the President, that person should not be an activist in any form — gender, racial or religious; nor should that person have any political affiliation or belong to any political party in any form – overt or covert. The person must be able to discharge his/her functions neutrally between the two opposing parties, as he or she would have done in court between two opposing litigants.
Additionally, the person must be able to discharge the functions attached to the post without fear or favour; not allowing any person or organisation to influence him or her to compromise his or her neutrality. Of note too is that the person should have a general character of honesty, integrity, faithfulness and diligence, which would enable him/her to discharge his/her duty as Chairman of GECOM.
As expected, finding persons who satisfy these requirements has proven to be quite a challenge for the Leader of the Opposition. Certainly, while he may have good intentions, there are many problems with the President’s criteria; and while we do not intend to delve into detail with them here as they have already been ventilated in the media; we believe the focus of the Constitution regarding such an appointment was the integrity and the independence of the post holder.
It is believed that the process is being unnecessarily dragged out for too long. It is hoped that the major political stakeholders here have learnt a lesson from this entire episode. We have seen the complications that have arisen from what in the normal course should have been a simple and straight forward process. It is quite evident the problem rests with the interpretation of the Constitution. There is therefore need for the process, and criteria to be satisfied for such a post, to be clearly spelt out in the Constitution. Accordingly, we suggest that either the Courts or politicians lead the process in correcting the grey areas in the Constitution. This is something that must be done to avoid future problems.
That said, with National Elections due in 2020, it is necessary that the President and the Opposition Leader achieve common ground on this issue soon. Once the appointment is made, it will allow for the political situation in the country to settle itself; if not, it could exacerbate.
Finally, the sooner the issue is sorted out, the better it would be for the new chairman to familarise himself/ herself with the entire electoral process and the running of the organisation (GECOM) which we know is very huge and complex.
We therefore urge the President and the Leader of the Opposition to find a quick resolution to this problem; the nation has had enough of the back and forth.