… as civil society finds difficulty in identifying candidates
Civil society is finding much difficulty in identifying candidates to President David Granger’s likings since his criteria disqualifies any form of activists and makes demands outside of the constitutional requirement relative to the appointment of a new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Questions are also being raised about the legality of the criteria outlined by the President.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on March 16 received a letter from the President advising on his opinion with regard to the qualities that the candidates should possess.
The search for a new Chairman has been a rollercoaster ride given the different interpretations between the Leader of the Opposition and the President on the relevant section of the Constitution of Guyana which outlines the selection process for a new Chairman of GECOM.
President Granger had rejected Jagdeo’s first list of nominees for the post on the basis that the candidates were not “fit and proper”.
Following weeks of impasse, Jagdeo finally agreed to return to the drawing board and submit a new list of nominees.
Having studied the information provided by the President, the Opposition Leader consulted with civil society bodies which had participated in the first round of consultations in December 2016.
Jagdeo, on March 21, met 55 representatives of 33 civil society organisations which included leaders of the Christian, Hindu and Muslim faiths; Private Sector, the Guyana Trades Union Congress and Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana; Amerindian organisations and the National Toshaos Council; the Indian Arrival Committee and the Justice Institute.
According to a statement from the Leader of the Opposition’s Office, President Granger’s letter was shared with the representatives but they found it challenging to come up with candidates who would fulfil all of the criteria.
“In fact, persons doubted if the President himself could find anyone who fulfilled his own criteria. Some wondered what were the reasons for the President making the range for selection so extraordinarily restrictive,” the statement read.
According to the President’s criteria, the candidate should be qualified to be a Judge of the High Court or an Attorney for a minimum of seven years.
In the absence of those requirements, the President said any other “fit and proper person” should be deemed to have wide electoral knowledge and capable of handling electoral matters since he/she is qualified to exercise unlimited jurisdiction in civil matters.
That person should not be an activist in any form; gender, racial or religious nor should that person have any political affiliation or should not belong to any political party in any form, apparent or hidden.
That 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. Here, the President appears to be making it a requirement for the candidate to have practiced in a court.
Additionally, the person must be able to discharge the functions without fear or favour; will not allow any person or organisation to influence him or her to compromise his or her neutrality.
The President also said that person should have a general character of honesty, integrity, faithfulness and diligence in the discharge of their duty as Chairman of GECOM.
According to the statement issued by the Opposition Leader’s Office, the criteria were considered as “an imposition on the Constitution which makes no such demands.”
The statement said most disconcerting was the stipulation that the candidate must not be an activist in any form.
“(It) was thought to be discriminatory and violated the anti-discrimination articles of the Constitution,” the statement explained.
During the consultations, Jagdeo said he had grave reservations on the legality and constitutionality of these criteria outlined by the President.
In fact, he expressed his intention to bring these concerns to the attention of the Head of State.
Nonetheless, the Opposition Leader said he remains committed to submitting six more names as requested. He urged civil society bodies to respond with recommendations for the post by March 27.