Credibility of CCJ ruling could be undermined by Govt’s “loose talk” – Jagdeo
Sovereignty of the people appeal case
As public concern continues to mount as to the authenticity of statements made by two senior Government Ministers in relation to their alleged insight into how the sovereignty of the people appeal case will be decided at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), and new information that there are close ties between local public officials, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo was asked whether the public’s concerns could be seen as justifiable and reasonable in light of Government’s utterances.
Jagdeo during his weekly press conference at his Church Street, Georgetown office said, during an invited comment, while the Ministers’ statements could be totally inaccurate, it was something to take note of, just in case there were any developments.
At a recent political meeting held in Berbice, Vice President and National Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan alleged that the CCJ would rule against the case. The Minister told his party supporters that Jagdeo would never be allowed the opportunity to run for another term in office as President.
“I don’t know whether it’s loose talk or they do have inside information as they say, but either way this could affect the credibility of the court. If they claim they have inside knowledge, it could also be entirely false,” Jagdeo stated. But according to him, this could cause Guyanese to believe their statements and if the ruling was contrary to that, then it has the potential to create some concern in sections of society.
Meanwhile, information reaching Guyana Times has suggested that the judicial assistant to the current CCJ President Sir Dennis Byron is the grandson of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and former advisor to the President, Justice James Patterson.
Asked whether he was concerned about this, Jagdeo responded in the affirmative. He said, “It does bother me for the same reasons I gave about Ramjattan and Basil Williams who claim they know how the court will rule on this matter. It goes back to the credibility of the court.”
He was also pressed on the difference in the dissenting opinion proffered by Acting Chancellor, which is reportedly different in the written form. Jagdeo said he is unsure of the accuracy of such a report. If it is true, he added that it would be an issue of concern since it would be seen as “strange”.
Pressed a bit further to state whether he would be willing to run for President if the CCJ ruled in the Opposition’s favour, Jagdeo told the media that “Having to go to cocktail receptions and accrediting ambassadors and having courtesy calls and a whole range of those things that goes with the presidency like cutting ribbons and so, don’t attract me. I don’t have any desire to be part of them. What I have great desire to do is to ensure that people’s lives, their welfare change…You figure out for yourself what I just said”.
Jagdeo went on to state that his current and most important function was General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). His main objective in that position is to prepare the Party for Government, while broadening its ethnic composition, which is predominantly Amerindian and Indo-Guyanese.
In 2014, private citizen Cedric Richardson had filed the challenge, arguing that Act 17 of 2001, which was passed by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, unconstitutionally curtailed and restricted his sovereign and democratic right and freedom as a qualified elector to elect a former President as the Executive President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
Contending that the limit was unconstitutional and illegal, Richardson also wanted the court to determine whether the amendment with a referendum should not have been held, instead of the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly having the power to decide to limit the number of terms.
The other restrictions were: to also declare unqualified to run for the presidency citizens of Guyana not resident in Guyana on Nomination Day; citizens of Guyana resident in Guyana on Nomination Day but who have not been continuously resident in Guyana for seven years prior to that date; and citizens of Guyana by registration.
After several months in the courts, former Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang ruled in favour of Richardson’s argument, saying that the term limit on presidents was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum.
However, the decision did not sit well with Attorney General Basil Williams and former Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, both of whom were named respondents in the court action. They asked that the ruling be “wholly set aside”, but then Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Carl Singh, also upheld the High Court’s decision, arguing in the Appeal Court ruling that a decision on the term limit rested with the people via a referendum, and not the National Assembly. He had sought to impress the point that people should choose whom they “please to govern them”, and noted that this was essential to all other rights.
During the February 2017 decision, Justice Singh was supported by Justice of Appeal BS Roy in upholding Justice Chang’s decision. Current Chief Justice (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who also sat on the panel, had given a dissenting judgement.
The matter was then taken to the Trinidad-based CCJ, which heard the case on Monday, March 12. A decision could be made at some point during this year.