The Ministry of the Presidency yesterday refuted any assertion that President David Granger has rejected the recent ruling of acting Chief Justice Roxane George SC on the constitutional requirements for the appointment of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) chairperson.
“Any commentary to contrary is clearly a deliberate misinterpretation,” the ministry said in a press statement that was issued last evening, although it did not identify the source of any such assertions.
However, the statement was issued hours after the Bar Council of the Guyana Bar Association noted the president’s recent comments on the judgement and said that it was confident that the state will abide by Chief Justice’s orders, like in every other society which respects and safeguards the rule of law.
Marcel Gaskin, a private citizen, had approached the High Court in March asking the court to provide an interpretation of the Constitution as it relates to the provisions for the selection of a Chairperson of Gecom.
Attorney General Basil Williams SC and Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo were listed as the respondents.
The acting CJ delivered the judgement orally on Monday and said, among other things, that the appointee did not have to be judge, former judge or someone eligible to be a judge and that nominees falling into these categories were not more favoured by the law for appointment than those who were submitted as “fit and proper” candidates.
President Granger, who had been emphasising that the ideal candidate should be a judge or someone eligible to be a judge, subsequently said in reaction to the ruling, “I will continue to act in accordance with my perception of the Constitution; that is to say, I will not appoint somebody who I do not consider fit and proper.”
During the ruling, the Chief Justice also said that the President should state reasons for rejecting any candidate. Later asked if he would give reasons as to why he has rejected the two lists that have been submitted by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, Granger responded, “If you can show me the Article of the Constitution which requires me to give reasons, I will comply with the Constitution but I will not do what the Constitution does not require me to do.”
The Ministry of the Presidency noted that Granger went on to tell media operatives that he remained committed to the spirit of the Constitution. “I do not believe that anything that the Honourable Chief Justice said has diminished my regard for the word or the spirit of the Constitution. I do believe that the person must be independent, must be impartial and I am looking for that independence and that impartiality,” it quoted him as telling the media.
The statement said that there is no indication that the Head of State “dismissed” the Chief Justice’s ruling, nor that he does not observe the separation of powers between the Executive branch of government and the Judiciary.
It further said that the words ‘fit and proper’ are taken directly from Article 161 (2) of the Constitution of Guyana and are an iteration of what the acting Chief Justice is reported to have said in her ruling based on her perception of that Article.
It added that while the President believes that the Constitution was crafted the way it was to give preference to the appointment of a judge or someone who is qualified to be appointed as a judge, he has never disagreed with acting Chief Justice’s ruling in that the Constitution clearly states that ‘any other fit and proper person’ can be appointed. As a result, it asserted that the president’s comments complement and do not contradict the ruling.
The statement noted too that in January, during a recording of ‘The Public Interest,’ the President said that any “fit or proper person” must approximate those qualities that characterise what is expected of a judge.
According to the ministry, any report or suggestion that the President does not observe the separation of powers is “blatantly dishonest and mischievous” and it pointed out that he reiterated the importance of an independent Judiciary at last week’s swearing in of new judges.
“The Executive Branch of Government has no interest in interfering in the adjudicatory role of the judiciary nor will it condone any interference in the work of the judiciary. Threats to the independence of the judiciary must be repelled…,” he was quoted as saying.
The statement stressed that the president remains committed to that separation and “nothing in his word or actions have demonstrated anything otherwise.”