President David Granger will soon begin consideration of the third list of nominees for the post of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) submitted by opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo, Minister of State Joseph Harmon said yesterday.
“…He will actively consider the names on the list and will invite the Leader of the Opposition to consultations shortly,” Harmon said yesterday after a meeting with Granger on the nominations.
Last Friday, Jagdeo informed that he had submitted a third list comprising Joe Singh, a retired Guyana Defence Force Major General who once held the very post in 2001; former long-serving magistrate Krisndat Persaud; attorneys Teni Housty and Sanjeev Datadin; pilot and biodiversity advocate Annette Arjoon-Martins; and Adventist pastor and agriculturalist Onesi La Fleur.
The post has been sitting vacant since February, when long serving Chair-man Dr. Steve Surujbally retired. Surujbally held that position for 15 years.
When contacted yesterday, Jagdeo said that he had gotten no response or even an acknowledgement letter. “No, nothing so far,” he said. “I don’t wanna be too harsh on them [since] it [the list] went a couple of days ago,” he, however, added, while noting that he is willing to give the president some time to respond.
President Granger has rejected Jagdeo’s two previous lists, saying that the six nominees on each list did not meet the criteria to be appointed Chairman.
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 nominees on Jagdeo’s first list, submitted in December last year, were Major General (ret’d) Norman McLean; Attorney and Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram; Business Executive Ramesh Dookhoo; Governance and Conflict Resolution Specialist Lawrence Lachmansingh; Indian Rights Activist Ryhaan Shah; and History Professor Dr James Rose.
After Granger rejected the first list, Jagdeo nominated former appellate judge B S Roy, former High Court Justice 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 for the post.
At a subsequent meeting, Granger and Jagdeo agreed on the submission of a third list.
Asked by Stabroek News if he was confident that it will be the final list he will be preparing, Jagdeo responded, “I’m hopeful.”
In a press statement about the submission, Jagdeo had noted that the nominees comprise a former chairman of Gecom (Singh); two are attorneys-at-law with over 10 years of good standing at the Guyana Bar and both of whom are qualified to be appointed as judges of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in Guyana in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana (Housty and Datadin); one who is an attorney-at-law with over 40 years of good standing and a former magistrate who served in that capacity for over 20 years (Persaud); one who is a businessperson in the local airline industry and who has received national and international acclaim for her work in protecting Guyana’s biodiversity (Arjoon-Martins); and one who has distinguished himself as an agriculturalist and has made a sterling contribution in Guyana and the Caribbean in the area of education and religion (La Fleur).
Jagdeo’s statement referred to the previous rejections as well as a subsequent meeting with the President at State House on June 12, 2017, where it was agreed that a high-level exploratory committee would be established to ensure a selection if a third list was rejected. He explained that though the committee was never activated by the government, he went ahead with “… elaborate and protracted consultations which lasted several weeks with various stakeholders.”
Jagdeo said that during this process he solicited views and sought nominations in efforts to ensure that six names who satisfy the requirements contemplated by Article 161(2) of the Constitution were submitted to the president.
Jagdeo told reporters last Friday that the absence of a chairman is an untenable situation that has totally stopped work of significance at the commission.
Jagdeo had said at a previous press conference that he foresees a ‘‘constitutional crisis” if Granger continues to delay the selection of a Gecom chairman.
He had also suggested that the president had an ulterior motive for rejecting the two previous lists.
Meanwhile, Jagdeo yesterday expressed concern that acting Chief Justice Roxane George is yet to deliver her written judgment on an application made by businessman Marcel Gaskin for declaratory orders on the meaning of Article 161(2).
In her oral ruling, she said that she found, among other things, that the appointee did not have to be a judge, former judge or someone eligible to be a judge. Gaskin’s application was made following the rejection of the first list.
Justice George also found that nominees falling into those categories and those who are “fit and proper” are equally qualified for appointment. She also stated that while there was no requirement for the persons nominated to have judge-like qualities, they should have integrity, honesty and impartiality, which are all akin to the qualities that a judge should possess. Justice George also said that the President should give an explanation for the rejection of any candidate.
It has been more than a month since that decision was read in court and George has promised that once errors are corrected and cases used as precedents are added, the written version of the decision will be made available.
Jagdeo yesterday said that it is unbelievable that the decision is the case is not yet ready. “I am surprised that it would take this long to translate an oral judgement to a written one…particularly when so much depends on it,” he said, while adding that he is doubtful that he can do anything in this particular situation.
When Stabroek News checked with Justice George’s office yesterday, an official would only say that the ruling is not yet ready.