The much anticipated meeting between Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and President David Granger has finally taken place, 10 days after the Caribbean Court of Justice had advised that the two parties meet to discuss the way forward for the selection of a new Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) chairman.
Thursday’s meeting was a welcoming sign for Guyana, as both leaders have agreed that a chairman for GECOM will be decided upon shortly.
Article 161 (2) of the Constitution states that “…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…” It goes on to outline the process by which the Chairman is appointed, stating that the Chairman is “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 (between) political parties represented in the National Assembly”.
The ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is without ambiguity; and so, while it is the Opposition Leader’s duty to submit the list of six persons, the mutually consensual position that Jagdeo and Granger have embarked upon to meet common grounds is also welcoming news. This position displays genuine and meaningful intention to derive practical solutions, given the delicate nature of Guyana’s political history.
“We are not averse to him (President) suggesting names too, but the constitutional responsibility to submit the six names is that of the Leader of the Opposition…I will start with a resubmission of the 18 names, appropriately adjusted for people who may not want to have their names resubmitted. We’ll use those names as the starting point. Should we not agree on all six names coming from those 18, then we will be supplying additional names,” the Opposition Leader said following the meeting.
Both sides agreed also that the matter is of such importance that it should be settled in a matter of days.
Following the meeting, Jagdeo also said, “We’re hoping that, with good faith and negotiations on both sides, we can resolve the matter of the new Chairman of GECOM within a matter of days. Those were the President’s words.”
But while there finally seems to be good faith position on the GECOM chairmanship issue, the Government continues to defy the CCJ ruling that it had fallen and there is no longer a Cabinet.
In simple and clear language, the court declared that the NCM was properly passed and Article 106 (6) of the Constitution, which states: “The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence” must now take effect.
However, in what was surmised as a surprise announcement on Tuesday, ‘Cabinet’ approved the removal of custodial sentences for persons found in possession of small amounts of marijuana. This led to questions being asked as to the status of acceptance of the CCJ ruling, since ‘Cabinet’ by law is supposed to have resigned after the Government was defeated.
The expectation is for the President to act above the fray of party politics and to endeavour to meaningfully engage necessary stakeholders to find consensus on all national issues. Many are convinced that, during his tenure, he missed opportunities to step above the fray in dealing with national concerns. Complying fully – not conveniently – with the CCJ ruling will be a good place to start.