Eight persons have been shortlisted to be nominated for the post of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), according to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, who said yesterday that he hopes to finalize the list in another week or two.
President David Granger wrote to Jagdeo last month indicating his criteria for nominees eligible to be appointed to the post, in light of his rejection of the list that was previously submitted in December.
Contacted yesterday for an update on the formulation of his new list of nominees, Jagdeo told Sunday Stabroek that the process is ongoing.
He said that following consultations with stakeholders, eight persons were shortlisted. Based on what PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira had previously told the media, approximately 14 names were submitted.
Jagdeo said that while a list of six names is required, he decided to add two more in the event that one of those nominated declined. “We shortlist eight because a couple of them may not take up the position so just in case they say no, we will still have the six,” he told this newspaper, while explaining that those shortlisted are “ranked.”
According to Jagdeo, he has commenced discussions with these individuals to seek their comments. He added that some of these persons will need to consult with their families and this would ultimately affect when the list will be finalized.
“I am not through with process …I have not met everyone as yet, so that is ongoing,” he added.
Asked how soon he expects the process to last, Jagdeo said that he is hoping to wrap things up within a week or two.
The process to select a Chairman of Gecom to replace Dr Steve Surujbally, who had formally indicated to President Granger his intention to resign with effect from November 30, 2016, has been drawn out due to contention over the criteria for the nominees.
Granger had rejected Jagdeo’s first list of six names as it didn’t contain any candidate who was a judge, a former judge or eligible to be appointed a judge. Jagdeo had maintained that the list was valid but undertook to submit a second list.
Former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran has underscored the need for the swift filling of the vacancy, saying that the country’s leaders have an obligation to rise above their differences and agree on a Chairman. He said both sides were needed in the decision making as a unilateral appointment can seriously jeopardise democratic gains.
Ramkarran, a Senior Counsel who once served as an elections commissioner, said that while the formula for selecting a Chair is constitutionally enshrined and must be formally adhered to, it does not preclude the leaders from informally suggesting names and one of those names getting onto the list.
“If the situation arises where the President seeks to appoint a judge, a former judge or a person qualified to be a judge, Guyana’s entire future as a democratic polity, albeit with profound challenges, will be in jeopardy. The unwritten rule that fundamental changes to electoral practices since 1992 should not be undertaken without broad consensus, notwithstanding the letter of the law, must not be allowed to fall apart,” Ramkarran declared.
Although committed to resubmitting a new list, Jagdeo has voiced concern that Granger’s criteria for candidates may not be legal or constitutional.
According to a submission on the “Qualities of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission” that was sent by Granger to Jagdeo, and which was released by the Office of the Opposition Leader, the candidate should be a person who is qualified to be a High Court Judge and should have been an attorney for a minimum of seven years. It said that in the absence of candidates who do not meet these qualifications, “any other fit and proper person” should be appointed. In this regard, the statement specifies that such persons should have the following characteristics:
“a) That person is deemed to have wide electoral knowledge, capable of handling electoral matters because he or she is qualified to exercise unlimited jurisdiction in civil matters;
b) That person will discharge his or her functions without fear or favour, that is he or she will not allow any person or organization to influence him or her to compromise his or her neutrality;
c) That person will discharge his or her functions neutrally, between the two opposing parties as he or she would have done in Court between two opposing litigants;
d) That person will not be an activist in any form (gender, racial, religious etc);
e) That person should not have any political affiliation or should not belong to any political party in any form, apparent or hidden; and,
f) That person should have a general character of honesty, integrity, faithfulness and diligence in the discharge of his or her duty as Chairman.”
The first list submitted by Jagdeo did not include a judge; rather, it comprised candidates that he felt could qualify under the “fit and proper” proviso.
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.”
Since receiving the president’s clarification and making a commitment to resubmitting a new list, Jagdeo met the representatives of 33 civil society organizations, which included leaders of the Christian, Hindu and Muslim faiths, the private sector, GTUC and FITUG, Amerindian organizations and the National Toshaos Council, the Indian Arrival Commit-tee and the Justice Institute.