It came as no surprise to many that after an extremely long wait, the President has indicated to the Leader of the Opposition and the nation as a whole, that he is not in favour of the second list of nominees submitted for his consideration for the position of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
In his rejection letter to the Leader of the Opposition last Friday, the President was quoted in the media as saying that after examining the Curriculum Vitae of the six nominees submitted, he has found the list to be unacceptable within the meaning of the Constitution and the criteria he had previously outlined. It should be noted that the President had rejected the initial list on the grounds that the identified persons were not ‘fit and proper’ in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution of Guyana.
This latest move by the President is quite unfortunate as there have been quite a lot of effort on the part of the Opposition Leader to arrive at a list that is in keeping with the constitutional requirements. Over the past few weeks, the Opposition Leader had embarked on an elaborate consultative process which lasted several weeks, during which he solicited the views of, and sought nominations from, many nationally renowned persons and various important stakeholders’ and representative organisations.
It is clear that the President has managed to make what was historically a very smooth and straightforward exercise one that is now complicated and politically acrimonious. Considering the fact that there is urgent need for a chairman to be appointed to proceed with the important business of the Elections Commission, one is forced to ask the real reason behind the President’s rejection of the second list. Some have expressed the view that the President was setting the stage for a unilateral decision to be made on the appointment of a chairman, since there were suspicions that he (the President) already had someone in mind that he favours to function in that capacity.
While it is still not clear what next steps the Opposition Leader will take, we believe that finding another six names that are in compliance with the President’s criteria would now become near impossible since the pool to draw from has become significantly narrower. More importantly, as indicated by the Opposition, persons would become even more reluctant to offer their names, for fear of the public damage and humiliation to their professional reputation, character and image by the President’s cavalier rejection of their names.
We had stated before that while he (the President) may have good intentions, there are many problems with his criteria and his legal team’s interpretation of the Constitution; and while we do not intend to delve into detail on them here, as they have already been ventilated in the media, we believe the focus of the Constitution regarding such an appointment was the integrity and the independence of the post holder.
We have seen the complications that have arisen from what in the normal course should have been a simple and straightforward process. Since there seems to be a problem with the interpretation of the Constitution, perhaps the time has come for the relevant stakeholders to seriously consider reviewing that aspect of the Constitution (the process and criteria of the GECOM Chairman’s appointment) with the aim of clearing up all the grey areas. Once the criteria for such a post are clearly spelt out, there would be little room for misinterpretation and political acrimony.
GECOM has been without a chairman since February 28, 2017, when Dr Steve Surujbally stepped down. From all indications, the work of the Commission is being stymied due to the absence of a GECOM Chair. It would, therefore, be in the nation’s interest if the President and Opposition Leader come to an immediate compromise on this issue.
Once the appointment is made, it will allow for the political situation in the country to settle itself; if not, it could be exacerbated. Also, the sooner the issue is sorted out, the better it would be for the new chairman to familiarise himself/herself with the entire electoral process and the running of the organisation (GECOM), which we know is very huge and complex. In the long run, it is in the interest of democracy, it is not about partisan political interest.