…says unilateral appointment of GECOM Chair not “flawed”
Despite a ruling from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that his decision to unilaterally appoint Justice (rtd) James Patterson as Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman was flawed, President David Granger is insisting that he acted within the ambit of the constitutional provisions.
On Tuesday, the Trinidad-based regional court ruled that the appointment was unconstitutional and the process used by the Guyanese President was flawed.
However, President Granger contended on Wednesday that he selected a “fit and proper” person as Chairman of GECOM in accordance with the definition laid out in the Constitution. In defiance on Wednesday, the Head of State told reporters that the CCJ must show where the flaw occurred.
“I’ve never gone outside the Constitution. If (the Court) tell that the process is flawed, they must let me know what the flaw is! So let us wait until the 24th of June when they make some consequential rulings. There is no way I can see that decisions I’ve taken are flawed,” he posited.
Despite the Court’s decision, Granger said that it was the responsibility of Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to submit a list of six nominees who are not objectionable. To this end, the Head of State said that he would be writing Jagdeo for them to meet as soon as possible.
“I have no problem meeting the Leader of the Opposition … I will write to him and as soon as he is available maybe as early as next week (we will meet). I will write to him this week, inviting him to resume the consultations which are mandated under the Constitution,” the Head of State noted.
According to the Constitution, President Granger is required to appoint a Chairperson for GECOM from a list of names submitted by the Opposition Leader.
Back in 2017, Jagdeo had submitted three separate lists, but the Head of State rejected all 18 nominees and went ahead to unilaterally appoint Justice Patterson as Chairman of the elections body.
However, the CCJ ruled on Tuesday that the process to appoint the GECOM Chairman was “fatally flawed”.
According to CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders, the President gave no specific reason for refusing to appoint a Chairman from the lists submitted by Opposition Leader Jagdeo. He noted that the President disapproved a third list, without giving a specific reason.
Justice Saunders referenced historical facts pertaining to the previous appointments of GECOM Chairmen. He cited the recommendations made by the Constitutional Reform Commission in 1999, that the Chairman should be appointed through consultations.
“To determine the meaning, the Court looked at the drafting history of Article 161(2), observing that changes had been made to it to promote consensus and inclusiveness by involving the Leader of the Opposition in the selection process.”
Further, the Judge noted that the President relied on the provisions that gave him discretionary powers and insulated him from providing an explanation for excluding the Opposition Leader from his final decision.
However, Justice Saunders pointed out that giving the President the power to reject candidates without giving reasons would frustrate what the Constitution contemplates. In fact, the Court decided that the President has a duty to give reasons for rejecting names in the interest of transparency.
“The Court, therefore, found that the process was flawed and in breach of the Constitution. In a concurring judgment, Mme Justice Rajnauth-Lee stated that by giving reasons why nominees are rejected, the President will engender greater public trust and confidence in the Elections Commission.”
To this end, the Court concluded that the most sensible approach to the process of appointing the Chairman of GECOM is for the Leader of the Opposition and the President to communicate with each other in good faith and, perhaps, even meet to discuss eligible candidates for the position of Chairman before a list is submitted formally.
He recommended that in future the Leader of the Opposition and President communicate and meet in good faith to discuss eligible candidates before a list is submitted. The court also recommended that moving forward, all parties work together, as the Constitution envisions, selecting a Chairman.
Justice Saunders also declared in the ruling that before President Granger rejected persons nominated by Opposition Leader Jagdeo, reasons should have been given for the rejections in the interest of transparency.
This case, which was heard by the CCJ on May 8, was brought by People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Executive Secretary Zulfikar Mustapha. Mustapha challenged the appointment of Patterson who was appointed to the position of Chairman of GECOM in October 2017.
Meeting with Caricom SG
Meanwhile, changing his posture later in the day, the Head of State during a meeting with Caricom Secretary General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque said that the Government would continue to respect the Constitution, and abide by the law.
“We respect the jurisdiction of the National Assembly; we respect the jurisdiction of the Court,” President Granger said.