One day after President David Granger announced that he had rejected the list of six names provided for the post of Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) Chairman, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo was officially notified of this development.
Stopping short of revealing whether a new list will be submitted, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday informed that it had earlier in the day received a correspondence from the Ministry of the Presidency. It was explained that in the correspondence, Granger officially informed Jagdeo that “the six nominees are unacceptable within the meaning of the Constitution.”
A replacement is needed following the resignation of long-standing Gecom Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally, which took effect on November 30 last.
Last month, Jagdeo submitted the names of Chartered Accountant and lawyer Christopher Ram; business executive Ramesh Dookhoo; author, Indian rights activist and columnist Ryhaan Shah; historian Professor James Rose; governance and peace practitioner Lawrence Lachmansingh and former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force and mining executive Norman McLean, for the President’s consideration. The President later requested the curricula vitae for the nominees.
In a terse press release, Jagdeo’s office said that in the correspondence Granger urged that a new list of persons who are “not unacceptable” be sent for his consideration.
“The Leader of the Opposition will be responding to the President tomorrow [today] and this communication will be made public,” the release said.
Stabroek News made attempts both on Sunday and yesterday to contact Jagdeo for his views on the matter, to no avail.
Granger had made his position known during a media brunch held at State House on Sunday.
Reading excerpts from Article 162 of the Constitution, which speaks to the selection of a Gecom Chairman, the President stressed that none of the candidates was a former judge or someone eligible to be appointed as a judge.
“Four times in one article it mentions that word, judge. So the only thing about the list is that it comprises six names,” the President said.
Article 161 (2) of the Constitution states, “Subject to the provisions of paragraph (4), 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, 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 with the non-governmental political parties represented in the National Assembly.
“Provided that if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list…, the President shall appoint a person who holds or 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,” it adds.
Granger said the list that was sent to him “was unacceptable,” and he read Article 161 (2) to justify his stance.
Within hours of Granger’s announcement, PPP Executive member and former Attorney General Anil Nandlall dispatched a statement disagreeing with the President’s interpretation of that aspect of the law.
“I am not surprised by President Granger’s manoeuvrings. Hence, the reason why I wrote a detailed article on this matter just one week ago. The President is playing a dangerous game… I believe these machinations will continue until the President conjures-up an interpretation of the Constitution which permits him to unilaterally appoint a Chairman of Gecom,” Nandlall posited.
“While the Constitution confers a discretionary power on the President to accept or reject any list, I hope that the President has been advised that no discretionary power, irrespective of how untrammeled it may appear to be ex-facie, is absolute. The law dictates that every discretionary power must be exercised within certain parameters.
“Over the years, the judiciary has been swift in rejecting the notion that unfettered discretion exists in law and has condignly rejected any unreasonable, capricious, or whimsical exercise of a discretionary power. Similarly, where the exercise of a discretionary power is irrational, done in bad faith and/or influenced by improper motives and/or irrelevant considerations, the courts have rejected it as an unlawful exercise and an abuse of that discretionary power,” he added.
Nandlall said he believed the President’s reason for not selecting from the list was “wholly untenable” as he also feels that all six persons have met the criteria set out for the Gecom Chairman position.
“It is clear that Article 161(2) of the Constitution contemplates two categories of persons. Firstly, a High Court judge or an Appellate Court judge, a former High Court or an Appellate Court judge or a person qualified to be a High Court or an Appellate Court judge. Secondly, or (disjunctive), any ‘fit and proper’ person. However, from whichever category the persons come, they must be acceptable to the President,” Nandlall wrote.
He also made reference to past Chairmen of Gecom and their qualifications.
“Historically, of all the persons who were appointed Chairman of Gecom, only Mr Doodnauth Singh SC appeared to have satisfied category one qualifications; although it could be argued that he would have satisfied the ‘fit and proper’ … requirement, as well. All the other persons: Rudy Collins, Edward Hopkinson, Joseph Singh and Dr Steve Surujbally lacked legal qualifications and therefore, were all qualified under the ‘fit and proper’ requirement,” Nandlall argued.