Urgent meeting needed to clarify Constitution – Jagdeo writes to Granger

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GECOM Chairmanship

…President confirms receipt, AG hints at unilateral appointment

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has written to President David Granger requesting an urgent meeting to clarify the misinterpretation of the Constitution ofpres-jagdeo Guyana regarding the qualifications of nominees for the post of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

Responding to the President’s rejection of his first list of nominees and his consequent request for a second one, Jagdeo asked that the Head of State elucidate his interpretation of Article 161 of the Constitution of Guyana, which deals with the requirements of the nominees to be submitted by the Opposition Leader.

“I hereby request that Your Excellency clarify what you interpret the qualifications are of the persons to whom Article 161(2) of the Constitution refers. I am of the considered view that an urgent meeting will immeasurably assist in reconciling any differences of opinion which may exist on this issue,” Jagdeo expressed in the correspondence.

It was dispatched on Tuesday, one day after he was formally informed by the President of his rejection of the list.

In the letter, which was made public to the media, Jagdeo also expressed his interpretation of the Constitution: that the requirements go beyond the qualifications of a judge.

“I am obliged to inform Your Excellency that my interpretation of Article 161(2) is different, in so far as, it also provides for, in addition to the category of persons to whom you  have referred, “or any other fit and proper person”,” Jagdeo penned.

President Granger, in his letter to the Opposition Leader, expressed that the nominees he submitted to fill the position of the GECOM Chairman “do not seem to conform to the requirements of … Article 161(2) …” of the Constitution.

Prior to dispatching the letter, the President told media operatives that the Constitution requires only persons who are judges, qualified to be judges, or former judges of either a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court.

An extract of Article 161 reads, “Subject to the provision of paragraph (4), 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”.

The Constitution, therefore, clearly provides for any person other than a judge or someone who is qualified to be a judge who is “fit and proper” to be appointed as GECOM Chairman.

This is also evident in the fact that many of the past Chairmen of GECOM lacked legal qualifications, including the immediate past Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally.

AG’s take

A statement from the Ministry of the Presidency confirmed that President Granger received the letter from the Leader of the Opposition and he would be responding in due course.

Nonetheless, the Attorney General Basil Williams shared his views on the situation, asserting that the President has “done nothing wrong”.

In his defence of the President’s posture, the Attorney General has signalled the intention of the Government to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chairman (see story on page 2).

According to him, the determination of “fit and proper” is at the discretion of the President.

He contended that all the nominees submitted by the Opposition Leader must be acceptable to the President, which is strange because the President only has to select one acceptable person as the GECOM Chairman.