Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday welcomed the release this week of a written ruling by Justice Roxane George on the matter of the appointment of a Chairman of GECOM and he said he hoped that President David Granger will now make a selection from the third list that he has.
“I hope he (President Granger) will use the ruling in making a decision on the list….I hope the President reads this carefully and his advisors advise him accordingly. I hope too that he understands that the interpretation that he has is untenable in the face of a ruling from the Chief Justice and that he is now required to act. I hope this will bring us some conclusion and allow us to act in a manner in line with the ruling of the Chief Justice and the provisions of our Constitution”, Jagdeo said at a press conference yesterday.
On an application by Marcel Gaskin, Justice George had been asked for rulings on four questions connected to the President’s rejection of the first list of candidates for the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) which position has been vacant since February this year.
Justice George’s ruling dismissed several of the notions that Granger held about the process and which he had used to reject two previous lists from Jagdeo and request a third.
Granger had indicated his preference for a judge, a retired judge or someone eligible to be a judge to be the Chairman. Justice George’s ruling however said that a judge or someone eligible to be a judge has equal ranking with persons who are considered to be fit and proper. Justice George ruled that the list did not have to contain a judge, a former judge or someone eligible to be judge.
Contrary to Granger’s views and those in his government, Justice George ruled that the President is required to give reasons for deeming the names on the list as unacceptable. Granger rejected two earlier lists without providing a reason. The judge also ruled that the finding by the President that one or more persons is not fit and proper does not render the entire list as unacceptable.
The third list has been before Granger for more than a month and the judge’s ruling now constrains the manner in which he treats with the roll. The list includes former Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Major General (Rtd) Joe Singh who had served as GECOM Chairman during the 2001 general elections and who is seen as broadly acceptable to Guyanese and to the international community. If he were to reject all six names, the President would have to supply reasons. The other persons on the list are 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.
Jagdeo yesterday expressed concern that Justice’s George’s ruling has paved the way for the president in the future to appoint his own GECOM Chairman if the list of nominees presented is deemed unacceptable and said that a legal challenge is still on the cards.
“I believe personally that that is a bit worrisome …that interpretation is for the future , not for the current situation because she said its academic now ….and therefore I would be discussing further with our lawyers to see whether we will join others in challenging that interpretation that there should be one list”.
The Chief Justice (CJ) delivered her ruling orally in July. Jagdeo said that he received the written version on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking to reporters at his weekly press conference held at his Church Street Office Jagdeo reminded that the only issue he has with the ruling relates to the CJ’s interpretation of the proviso to Article 161 (2).
The CJ, he said, noted that this provision was raised by the Guyana Bar Association, which was a part of the proceedings as a friend of the court and that none of the attorneys for the respondents (himself and the Attorney General) raised the issue. He said that it is the CJ’s opinion that there should be one list and if the president finds that list unacceptable then he can move on to appoint a person of a judicial nature.
“It does appear, as canvassed by the Bar Association, that article 161(2) does not contemplate the submission of more than one list. The proviso states that if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for, then the President shall appoint someone from the judicial category only. It does appear to me that failure to submit a list as provided for speaks to the provision of an acceptable list as discussed earlier. If by not choosing any of the persons listed the President thereby finds the list unacceptable, the proviso to art 161(2) would apply and the President should then go on to appoint a judge or former judge or person who would qualify for appointment as a judge in Guyana or the Commonwealth to the post of Chairman of GECOM”, Justice George-Wiltshire said in the written version which was seen by Stabroek News.
Jagdeo told reporters that the CJ later noted that that is an academic point because other lists have been requested. He opined that this position could influence the choice of a Chairperson in the future. “So in the future, if this ruling is there the president can say `send me a list of six names’ and he then says `I don’t find any person acceptable I am moving on to make my own appointment’”, he said.
Jagdeo said that he is hoping that Granger reads the ruling carefully and that “his advisors will now guide him accordingly …and I hope he understands now that the interpretation that he had, that all of the persons have to be acceptable to him before he contemplates choosing someone that interpretation is now untenable in the face of the ruling from the Chief Justice “.
At present Granger is on official business in Switzerland having just left the United States where he attended the 72nd Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly.