Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo did not find favour with President David Granger’s suggestions of Attorney Kesaundra Alves and Justice Claudette La Bennett for the post of chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
This was revealed following a meeting with representatives from the President and Opposition on Wednesday to hammer out six names that are “not unacceptable” to the President.
“The two names previously suggested by the President did not find favour with the Leader of the Opposition,” a joint statement from the two sides detailed.
The President had initially suggested a list of eight names for the Opposition Leader to consider but subsequently shortlisted Alves, the Chair of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), and Justice La Bennett, a retired High Court Judge.
It is not the first time that Justice La Bennett’s name has appeared in the running for GECOM Chairperson. In 2017, prior to the unilateral appointment of retired Justice James Patterson, President Granger had been adamant that he was not leaning towards appointing La Bennett.
Meanwhile, during Wednesday’s meeting, the Opposition’s team, which included People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Presidential Candidate Irfaan Ali and former Attorney General Anil Nandlall presented four additional names to be hammered out.
These new names will be passed on to President Granger for consideration.
Both the Opposition and the President’s representatives were tight-lipped about the new nominees.
However, Director General at the Ministry of the Presidency Joseph Harmon, who, along with PNC/R Chair Volda Lawrence represented the President during the meeting, confirmed that these new names were not among the 18 submitted by the Opposition Leader back in 2017.
The Head of State has found another four nominees submitted by the Opposition Leader as “not unacceptable”. This means that those four individuals can make the final list of six nominees for the post of the new GECOM chairperson.
While, those final four names were not disclosed, <<<Guyana Times>>> understands that Conflict Resolution Specialist Lawrence Latchmansingh is among those of whom the Head of State found acceptable.
Nevertheless, the hammering out process will continue today, where the two sides are expected to consider the four new Opposition nominees.
Jagdeo has to compile a final consensual list of six nominees to submit to President Granger. From that list, the Head of State will choose a GECOM Chairperson.
Initially, the Opposition Leader had presented 11 names to be “hammered out” by a working group comprising of representatives from both Government and the Opposition. These nominees were all rejected back in 2017 by President Granger, who had gone ahead and unilaterally appointed retired Justice James Patterson as the GECOM Chair.
However, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on June 18, 2019 ruled that Justice James Patterson’s appointment to the post was flawed and unconstitutional. Days later, he stepped down opening up the process for a new chairperson to be appointed.
The Court had urged that there be consensus between the two leaders in this process, resulting in the establishment of the working group. However, during a series of meetings last week, the President’s representatives shortlisted only five of the Opposition’s 11 nominees.
This resulted in a breakdown in those talks after the Government’s side could not say definitively whether those names shortlisted, as well as those suggested by President, are not objectionable to him.
The process was then referred back to the two political leaders and after several exchanges of correspondences over the weekend, Granger and Jagdeo finally met on Tuesday. Coming out of that meeting, the President found four of the Opposition’s nominees “not unacceptable”. The two sides also agreed that the hammering out process will continue with a smaller team and during that process, the two names suggested by the President, along with others “as may be necessary”, will be further discussed.
Meanwhile, speaking with reporters after Wednesday’s meeting, Ali reminded that the hammering out process is informal and as such, more can be expected from the Opposition Leader in order to have consensus in the six names that will be submitted to the President for the GECOM Chair selection.
Adding to this, Nandlall explained that the language of the CCJ must be read and interpreted in the context of Article 161 (2) which, among other things, gives the Opposition Leader the responsibility to continue to produce names to the President until his selection is made.
“The character of that exercise cannot change, so it’s not for the President to keep sending (names). This process is to find the not acceptability of the President, nothing else. And when the CCJ said what they said, it must be construed from that context, that names must continue to come from the Leader of the Opposition until the President says yes…,” the former Attorney General stated.