On Wednesday at about 07:00hrs, the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo received a telephone call from Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, inviting him to a meeting with President David Granger, at State House at 18:00 hrs to hold consultations in respect of the appointment of two persons to act in the positions of Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice. Minister Harmon indicated that the President is about to leave the country tomorrow, hence the urgency.
At 18:00 hrs at State House, the Leader of the Opposition, accompanied by Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, met with the President and a delegation which included, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon and Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams SC. At the commencement of the meeting, the Leader of the Opposition indicated that he will not insist on the formalities of a letter accompanied by the names of the persons who are the President’s nominees to act in these offices along with their curriculum vitae, as is the practice which has evolved, attendant to such consultations, in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. The Leader of the Opposition indicated that his reason for dispensing with these formalities is because the filling these vacancies are of national importance and the President’s departure for overseas is imminent.
The President proposed the names of the Honourable Justice of Appeal, Yonette Cummings-Edwards, now preforming the functions of Chief Justice, to act in the position of Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Honourable Roxanne George-Wilshire SC, to act in the office of Chief Justice. The Leader of the Opposition informed the President that he requires one week to offer his views on those proposals.
The Leader of the Opposition then raised the issue of the absence of action in relation to the unanimous recommendations made to the President since February 2016, by the Judicial Service Commission that the Honourable Justice Rishi Persaud and the Honourable Justice Dawn Gregory be appointed to the Court of Appeal and Sandil Kissoon and DamoneYounge, Attorneys-at-Law, be appointed as Puisne Judges. He reminded the President that the President has no alternative but to act upon recommendations made by the Judicial Service Commission.
The Leader of the Opposition emphasised that equal urgency attaches to both sets of appointment because there is currently no sitting Judge in the Court of Appeal, a three member Court and certainly, the appointment of a person to act in the position of the Chancellor alone will not fill the critical void which currently exists in that Court.
Moreover, the Leader of the Opposition adverted to a public perception that the delay in acting upon the recommendations of the Judicial Service Commission is deliberate and intended to await a differently constituted Judicial Service Commission, which may not have confidence in the recommendations of their predecessors. Additionally, he pointed out that the delay in elevating the two Judges to the Court of Appeal as recommended by the JSC for over a year, places them at a comparative disadvantage in respect of seniority. The Leader of the Opposition also enquired whether the recommendations of the JSC will be implemented at the same time when these acting appointments will take place.
The President promised that he will address these concerns of the Leader of the Opposition at a meeting which will be held on the March, 8.
The Leader of the Opposition also took the opportunity to raise a number of critical issues affecting the economy:
including the lack of investments,
the heavy taxation burden placed upon the population and the business community, and
the devastating consequences which will flow from the closure of the Sugar Industry.
The Leader of the Opposition emphasised that the Government is sending a plethora of wrong signals, for example, wild and unsubstantiated allegations of corruption in the country, the reckless linkages alleged between reputable persons and commercial entities in the business community and criminal enterprises and irresponsible assertions of a dependency of the economy upon illicit activities. He pointed out that the cumulative effect of these signals will not attract much needed investments and will continue to put pressure on the exchange rate which will result in the loss of real income and welfare.
The Leader of the Opposition reminded the delegation that sugar is not a corporation but an industry and closure of estates will have catastrophic repercussions, not only among sugar workers and a few communities but which will reverberate across the entire economy. He asserted that with the correct policies, fiscal space can be made for continued assistance to the sugar industry until it recovers from its current problems.
The Leader of the Opposition cautions that unless these and other critical issues in relation to the economy, are prudently addressed,the economy will continue its downward slide.
The final issue raised by the Leader of the Opposition was the appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission as soon as possible. The Leader of the Opposition explained that while he continues to hold to his publicly articulated position on this matter, he is requesting clarifications on how many persons ought to come from each of the categories contemplated by Article 161 (2) of the Constitution as interpreted by the Attorney General; and, what are some of the qualities/attributes which a ‘fit and proper’ person must possess. The Leader of the Opposition emphasised that this request for clarifications is to assist him in selecting six (6) names that would most likely find the acceptance of the President, because it is a national imperative that this issue be resolved with every convenient speed.
The President promised to address these issues at the next week meeting.
However, the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon late Wednesday evening said that discussions between the Head of State and Opposition Leader were “meaningful” and “very frank and fruitful”. He added, however, that although Jagdeo requested a period of seven days to submit additional names for consideration, there was no requirement for the President to agree to such for appointments of an acting Chancellor and Chief Justice, as he could make such appointments once consultations were held according to the Constitution of Guyana. As such, the Government went ahead and made the appointments.