Gecom work being stymied by absence of Chairman – commissioner

The elections commissioners have not been meeting because of the non-appointment of a Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) Chairman, according to Com-missioner representing the PPP/C, Sase Gunraj who last evening said that this situation is stymying their work.

Gunraj told Stabroek News that the commissioners have not received any reports or updates regarding Gecom, except for the one occasion he had to ask.

Contacted yesterday on a report which was recently completed by Auditor General Deodat Sharma on the commission’s acquisition of several dozen radio sets at a $100M price tag, Gunraj, an attorney-at-law, said that he has not received a copy and he blamed this on the fact that the commissioners have not met since the departure of former Chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally at the end of November last year.

Sase Gunraj

“The commission is not sitting… they last sat late last year since before the departure of Dr. Surujbally… the last scheduled meeting was called off before he left and the commission cannot sit without a chairman”, he said before stressing that the lengthy delay in the appointing a chairman is stymying the work of the commissioners.

A new chairman has to be chosen following consultation between President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo. On May 2 Jagdeo submitted a second list of nominees for the post to Granger. The first list had been rejected. Those nominated on the second list are former appellate judge B S Roy, former High Court judge William Ramlal, former magistrate and now practising attorney Oneidge Walrond-Allicock, attorneys Kashir Khan and Nadia Sagar and former Guyana Defence Force Captain and businessman Gerald Gouveia to fill that position. It is unclear when Granger is likely to make a decision on this list.

Gunraj told Stabroek News yesterday that individual members of the commission are not afforded updates on the cycle of continuous registration that has since come to an end. He explained that the commission has to meet to permit changes to the national register of registrants which would occur as a consequence of this cycle. He said save and except for a request he made, the commissioners have not been provided with any updates by Chief Election Officer, Keith Lowenfield.

Prior to Dr. Surujbally ‘s departure, he said the commissioners received weekly reports at each statutory meeting. Surujbally’s resigned from office on November 30, 2016.

Gunraj informed that in the one instance he had to write requesting a report and he subsequently received a response to that request.

He told Staboek News that the financial position of Gecom is unknown. He explained that the constitution allows Gecom to have a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund meaning that “we can drew money from the fund to carry out our functions”. As a consequence of this, he said that the commission is tasked with overseeing the finances of the agency. “In the absence of meetings we have no idea what is the present status of our finances or what is happening at Gecom. We have absolutely no idea what is going on there”, he pointed out.

 ‘Contrary’

Former Attorney General Anil Nandall also weighed in on the frustration felt about Granger’s delay in making a decision on a Chairman.

He pointed to the President’s Indepen-dence speech and flayed Granger for what he called a “double standard” in his speeches and writings compared to his actions.

“The president has developed a penchant for highlighting the importance of the constitution, respect for the separation doctrine and the significance of the institutions of democracy functioning in the manner contemplated by the constitution and the rule of law. We saw him speak glowingly about these concepts in his independence speech at D’Urban Park. And in a column I read, published in another newspaper, he wrote elegantly about them as well. Unfortunately, his words are unsupported by his actions and omissions,” Nandlall lamented.

“Let us start with, for example, the Gecom Chairman. This position is now vacant for nearly six months. It is perhaps the longest hiatus since the Carter Formula was coined. The only reason for the delay is the president’s inability to act decisively on every occasion which requires his action. Then when he acts, in my respectful view, he does so in a manner contrary to the letter and spirit of the constitution. When one examines this issue from the time Dr Surujbally indicated his intention to resign, until now, one will easily see what I am speaking about,” he added.

The opposition’s point person on legal matters gave a timeline of events leading up to the current wait for Granger’s decision on the matter.

He said, “At the first instance, the president took a long time in inviting the leader of the opposition to submit names. Then, the president threw the process into confusion by an unparalleled and unjustifiable interpretation placed upon the language of Article 161(2) of the constitution as it relates to the qualifications and suitability of persons for that position. Then followed a rejection of the first list and then a long interregnum before another correspondence was sent to the leader of the opposition inviting an engagement with yours truly and the Attorney General (Basil Williams SC). And then another long wait before a second list was invited and after that second list was submitted there is now a long wait for a verdict from the President.”

He reasoned that  there is no way that the framers of the constitution could have ever contemplated such a degree of procrastination and delay, in relation to the appointment of a chairman for Gecom.

“Certainly, on no other occasion before, from 1992 to 2017, has there ever been such a delay in the process. Importantly, because of the ways our electoral laws are structured, which requires a continuous cyclical form of legislation, it is not contemplative that Gecom is to be headless for so long,” Nandlall stressed.

Nandlall believes that the country’s  electoral system, unfortunately, does not enjoy the confidence of nearly half of the electorate and it is one integral reason that he believes Granger should act swiftly to allay fears that the electoral system is not at risk.

“In the interest of this nation, in the interest of democracy in the interest of the constitution and the rule of law, it is imperative that reforms take place at Gecom in the organization itself and the in processing so as to regain the confidence and trust of the electorate. Those vital reforms cannot take place if Gecom remains without a chairman. I refuse to believe that the president is so naïve that he does not recognize reality and therefore I am forced to question whether this dilatation and sloth is not deliberate,” he said.

“Whatever may be the reason it certainly flies in the face of the idealistic speeches and writings of the president and it remains a matter of the highest national priority which must be urgently resolved,” he added.

Jagdeo last weekend expressed concern at the delay in the president making a choice. “…I am saying that I am concerned given the importance for elections, the importance for Gecom and the country… this issue should be dealt with on a priority basis, as an urgent matter and I do not see any sense of urgency on the part of the government and that’s my major concern,” Jagdeo told this newspaper when contacted. He added that the length of time that has passed is not required in order for a selection to be made and indicated that he may raise this issue with the president.

Granger, shortly after the swearing in of two appellate court judges on May 17, had said that “the CVs” of the nominees were still being examined. He reminded that he had sent a list of criteria to Jagdeo and “we have to ensure that the new nominees are in accordance….”.

A submission on the “Qualities of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission” that was sent by Granger to Jagdeo said 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 matter

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;

f)  That person should have a general character of honesty, integrity, faithfulness and diligence in the discharge of his or her duty as chairman.”

Jagdeo at a recent press conference expressed confidence that the persons he nominated for the post meet the criteria outlined by the president.

“He said that he had a preference for people who were former judges, and are eligible to be judges and five of those six persons meet those criteria. I suspect that he could find one from the five or the six who will discharge the functions of Gecom in an impartial [and] independent manner,” Jagdeo said

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