President David Granger yesterday rejected the second list of nominees submitted to him for Chair-person of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), saying it did not conform with the criteria set out in the constitution, even as Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo once again charged that moves are afoot for a unilateral appointment.
“I have examined the Curricula Vitae of the six persons in light of the criteria defined in my letter to you dated 2017.03.14. I have found the list to be ‘unacceptable’ within the meaning of the constitution and of those criteria,” Granger stated in a letter to Jagdeo yesterday.
A statement issued last night by the Ministry of the Presidency said Jagdeo must now submit a third list of nominees and Granger was quoted as saying that he was prepared to work with him for as long as it takes.
“I’m prepared to work with the Leader of the Opposition for as long as it takes to have somebody selected who fits the criteria, satisfies the Constitu-tion and is one that the people of Guyana could be happy with. I’m prepared to work with the Leader of the Opposition for as long as it takes, but I’m not going to give the people of Guyana the appointment of a person, who is not fit and proper in accordance with the Constitution or criteria, which have been laid out,” he 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.”
The ministry said Granger made it clear that the list must include six persons, who are all qualified so that the choice is not limited. “Every member of the list suggested must conform to the criteria and you cannot put on the list, a person who does not conform… I must be given a choice. I don’t believe that the second list gave me the range of choice that the people of Guyana deserve,” he said.
On May 2nd of this year, Jagdeo submitted a second list of nominees for the post to Granger, following the rejection of the first list in January this year.
The second list comprised retired judges BS Roy and William Ramlal, attorneys Oneidge Walrond-Allicock, Nadia Sagar and Kashir Khan and businessman Gerry Gouveia.
It took the president an entire month to decide that the list was unacceptable. Gecom has been without a chairman since December last year.
However, the ministry said he recognised that a Chairperson needs to be appointed as local government elections are imminent and in preparation for general elections.
‘A fight coming’
Mere hours before the president’s letter was received, Jagdeo had lamented at a press conference that Granger had had enough time to deal with the appointment and that his sloth was stymying Gecom’s work.
He accused Granger of having double standards, since he believed that the president used public forums and writings to advocate for and praise democracy, when in reality he moved with sloth on matters of fundamental national importance.
Adding to criticisms of the president for “dragging his foot” in pronouncing on the second list, Jagdeo said he felt that the delay was a sham to give the perception that Granger was really critiquing the résumés of the nominees.
“The president has had enough time to deal with this matter and now the feeling is increasingly taking hold of us—this delay is just to make it seem that there is serious considerations of the names, just to create this façade that this is happening; they are really examining the names,” he posited.
“This issue is one that goes straight to the president’s credibility, that his lofty sounding speeches has to be matched by his action,” Jagdeo said.
Jagdeo warned that any move to unilaterally appoint a Gecom Chair-man will be met with resistance.
“As I have said before, if there is any attempt to move outside of the Carter Center formula, that was enshrined in our constitution and which gives the president the right to reject any list, but not to choose from outside of that list which the opposition leader submits to him, only if the opposition leader refuses to submit that list, if he moves outside of that, they will have a fight coming,” Jagdeo warned.
“…It will mean that this country will be going down a path similar to the one that we had in the 70s and the 80s; that is a path of rigged elections and turmoil,” he further charged.
The first list comprised chartered accountant Christopher Ram, governance specialist Lawrence Lachmansingh, business executives Ramesh Dookhoo and Norman McLean, author Ryhaan Shah and historian Professor James Rose.
After submitting the second list, Jagdeo had expressed confidence that the persons he nominated met 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.
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.”
Sources close to Jagdeo said that he “remains committed to the process and if need be we will submit a third, fourth, fifth… list, but we will not allow any loopholes for the unilateral appointment of a chairman for this fundamental position. It cannot happen.”
“I can only imagine what this rejection has done to the morale of the noble men and women who were on that list. What is it that this man is really looking for? The constitution said one thing and we abided only to have his interpretation. We met the criteria set out in each case and look what has happened,” the source added.
Following the president’s formal pronouncement that the list was rejected, Jagdeo added to the mounting criticisms of the president’s handling of the process and reiterated much of what he earlier stated.
“The Leader of the Opposition notes with deep concern the cavalier and callous manner in which the President continues to express no confidence in and denigrate the professional reputation, integrity and competence of Guyanese of high calibre who have rendered sterling contributions to the development of our country and in service to our people and who have distinguished themselves in their individual endeavours and pursuits,” Jagdeo said in a statement after receiving the letter.
“We reiterate our apprehension that the President is bent on unilaterally selecting a person of his choice in violation of the letter and spirit of Article 161 (2) of the Constitution and indeed, the Carter Formula. The Leader of the Opposition hereby assures that should the President proceed along this unconstitutional, undemocratic and diabolical path there will be litigation and other consequences for which the President will be responsible,” he added.