President David Granger will use the recent court ruling to guide his selection of a Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), Minister of State Joseph Harmon said yesterday.
“The president respects the ruling of the court in this matter and has no intention of stepping outside of the boundaries that [are] established there. He respects that ruling and I want to make that very clear,” Harmon said during a post-Cabinet press briefing, where he made it clear that the president wants the appointment resolved as quickly as possible.
Asked if Granger is considering the ruling as part of his decision making, Harmon responded, “Well, yes, certainly.”
Almost two months ago, acting Chief Justice Roxane George delivered an oral judgment on an application made by businessman Marcel Gaskin for declaratory orders on the meaning of Article 161(2).
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.”
In her ruling, Justice George 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. Justice George also said that the President should give an explanation for the rejection of any candidate.
During a press conference yesterday, opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo said that he had taken note of Harmon’s comments that the president will respect the court ruling. “We are a bit concerned because there is one part of that decision that was not the subject of the presentation on either side…but a ruling was given on that one and we had wanted to see the written decision,” he said.
He was referring to Justice’s George’s apparent position that if the President deems every name on a list as unacceptable, then the proviso to Article 161 applies. Jagdeo has said that if this is indeed correct, he takes issue with it and would file an appeal; this course of action is dependent on the availability of the written ruling.
“It is unbelievable that till now …that we cannot have a copy of the written decision that would allow an appeal,” he said while expressing hope that the president will not act in accordance with the part of the ruling that has been objected to.
“We are very watchful and if there is any attempt by the government to unilaterally impose a chairman on this country, then this changes things fundamentally,” he stressed. Harmon yesterday gave all assurances that the president wants the issue resolved as soon as possible.
“I want to assure you also that His Excellency is very anxious to have this matter brought to an end and that he is taking all steps in that direction,” he said, while adding that the president would ensure that “we get the best possible person for that position”.
Last week Thursday, Granger had said that he was “critically” examining the third list and a decision should not be expected before Tuesday, since he had to discuss the list with Cabinet. Harmon did not say if the matter was raised at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.
Jagdeo’s newest list comprises Joe Singh, a retired Guyana Defence Force Major General who previously held the post of Gecom Chairman; 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.
Singh is heavily favoured, sources say.
The post has been vacant since February, when long-serving chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally resigned. Surujbally held that position for 15 years.
The president had rejected Jagdeo’s two previous lists and the two at a subsequent meeting agreed on the submission of a third list.
Jagdeo has expressed confidence that someone will be chosen from his latest list.