…merely agrees to meeting between AG, Opposition rep
…but does not provide clarification for rejecting list – Opposition
President David Granger has finally written to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo in response to his request for clarification on the Head of State’s interpretation of the Constitution of Guyana regarding the appointment of a new Chairperson of the elections body.
Jagdeo had sought clarification in light of Granger’s unjustified rejection of the list of six nominees, which was submitted to him. On Wednesday, the Opposition Leader received a letter from the President, which, however, did not provide the clarification that the President had promised. This did not sit well with the Opposition, which, in a statement, expressed disappointment that the Government had not furnished the clarity sought in a matter of such national importance and magnitude. Instead, the President merely proposed that a meeting be held between Attorney General Basil Williams and a person of the Leader of the Opposition’s choice “in order to avoid further misinterpretation or misunderstanding of this important constitutional matter”.
As a result, in a statement on Wednesday evening, the Office of the Opposition Leader stated, “We are disappointed that the clarifications that we requested have not been furnished. We are further disappointed that the President is unprepared to meet with the Leader of the Opposition on a matter of such crucial national importance. We had hoped that such a meeting would have exposed the President to a view that is different from that of the Attorney General, whom we presume, is advising the President on this matter.”
The statement further states that in the interest of the nation, the Opposition Leader will accede to the President’s request, and will send a representative to the meeting with the Attorney General.
“It is our hope that this engagement will provide the requisite clarity and will move the process closer to an early resolution,” the Opposition statement said.
The lack of clarification came mere hours after the President promised to not end the process until both parties were satisfied.
Granger had claimed that the initial candidates were unacceptable on the basis that they did not meet the constitutional requirement of being a judge or possessing the qualifications of a judge despite the fact that the Constitution provides for any other “fit and proper” person to be nominated.
When questioned by media operatives, President Granger on Wednesday said, “I am obliged to conduct meaningful consultation with him; I will not make any choice unless the consultation is completed…I am a man of great patience; this is a constitutional matter that is important to Guyana and I don’t want to bring the process to an end without both sides being satisfied,” he expressed.
The controversy on the matter revolves around the different interpretations of the Opposition Leader and the Government on Article 161 (2) of the Guyana Constitution on the appointment of a new GECOM Chairman.
The relevant section of the Constitution states, “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 Opposition’s understanding conforms to the updated Constitution, which incorporates the Carter Formula to have a democratic process for the appointment of a chairman.
The Carter Formula is designed and intended to achieve consensus between Government and the Opposition regarding the appointment of GECOM’s Chairman.
GECOM’s composition was also designed to achieve a certain degree of equilibrium, hence three nominees from the governing party and three from the Opposition, with the Chairman holding a balance of power with a casting vote.
Granger’s interpretation on the other hand seems to reflect the old 1980 Constitution, commonly known as the “Burnham Constitution”, which limits the pool of persons to be appointed to GECOM’s helm to only judges or those eligible to be a judge. This version of the Constitution also gives the President the power to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chairman.
Attorney General Basil Williams and Vice President Khemraj Ramjattan had both signalled Government’s intention to activate a clause in the Constitution to allow the President to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chair.
Such a move would be dangerous as it alters the democratic process regarding the appointment of a person to be tasked with overseeing the elections process in the country.
But Jagdeo contends that Government’s interpretation of that clause is also erroneous.
To resolve the issue, Jagdeo said he was prepared to take the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice to rule on the correct interpretation of the constitution.