The much anticipated meeting between President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on the appointment of a new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) will take place today.
In a letter, dated July 3, the Head of State proposed that the two leaders meet at 15:00h today at the Ministry of the Presidency (MotP). The correspondence was sent by Director of MotP Joseph Harmon and addressed to People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Executive Member Gail Teixeira, both of whom have been acting on behalf of the respective political leaders. <<<Guyana Times>>> was told that the Opposition Leader will be attending the meeting.
Over the weekend, correspondences between the Government and the Opposition sparked much public debate after it was suggested that the President submits his own list of nominees for the GECOM Chair.
“The Government interpreted [the Caribbean Court of Justice’s ruling] to mean that both the President and Leader of the Opposition will provide nominees on the list of six persons. It is hoped that the Leader of the Opposition could quickly communicate his view on this issue before a date for the meeting with the President is finalised,” Harmon had reasoned in the letter sent last Friday.
However, that proposal was immediately rejected by the Opposition. In fact, Teixeira pointed out that Article 161 of the Constitution makes it the Opposition Leader’s job to submit names to the President, not the other way around. She noted too that to do otherwise would be a case of the President usurping the Opposition Leader’s role.
“The Leader of the Opposition wishes to remind that the Caribbean Court of Justice, in its recent judgment, in interpreting Article 161 (2) of the Constitution, examined the letter, spirit and intendment of that Article. Therefore, the judgement of the Court must be construed as giving obeisance to the Article, rather than derogating from it,” she responded.
“In this regard, it was never a matter of controversy that the list of six names must emanate from the Leader of the Opposition and the appointment of one therefrom is exclusively the remit of the President,” Teixeira also wrote.
The former Chief Whip went on to say that the CCJ was merely providing guidance on how to conduct the engagement with the two sides. Notwithstanding this, Teixeira informed Harmon that the Opposition Leader was open to the President suggesting names informally.
Article 161 (2) of the Constitution states that “…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…”
It goes on to outline the process by which the Chairman is appointed, stating that the Chairman is “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 (between) political parties represented in the National Assembly”.
Last week, former GECOM Chairman, retired Justice James Patterson officially stepped down from the position. His appointment was deemed unconstitutional by the CCJ, which noted that President Granger stepped outside of the Constitution when he appointed Patterson.
In its judgement on this matter, the CCJ had said clearly that “once the President and the Leader of the Opposition have hammered out a list of names not unacceptable to the President, the list, comprising the six persons, must then formally be submitted to the President by the Leader of the Opposition and the President must then select the Chairman from among those names”.
While explaining the consensual process to appoint the GECOM Chairman, the CCJ went on to advise that, “This approach gives the President a role in the identification of the six names, but it obviates [eliminates] the possibility that after the formal presentation of the list, the President could suggest that one or more of the names or indeed the entire list, is unacceptable”.
To, therefore, have the Government claim that the CCJ intended for President Granger to himself submit names has some observers questioning the Government’s sincerity in wanting to work with the Opposition to appoint a Chairman of GECOM the right way.