The absence of a Chairperson is undoubtedly affecting the operations of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), according to Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield.
Gecom has been without a Chairperson since February and with Local Government Elections scheduled for next year, there is some unease over the delay in filling the vacancy.
President David Granger has already rejected two lists of nominees presented by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and is yet to decide on the third list. He has said that he intends to meet with Jagdeo on the third list.
Lowenfield, during a recent interview, told Stabroek News that the absence of a constitutionally-required Chairperson and a board for any agency “no doubt will impede on the smooth processes of the agency.”
He agreed that some of the work to be done will have to wait on the arrival of the Chairperson. “It is an administrative thing and not necessarily specific to Gecom. Anywhere you supposed to have a Chairman … [and] there is no Chairman, there is only so much you can do and no more in his or her absence,” he said.
Lowenfield, who made it clear that he doesn’t have the authority to comment much on the matter, expressed hope that the policy makers with direct responsibility for Gecom will understand that the issue ought to be sorted out as quickly as possible since there is work to be done. “All I am saying is that… in any agency where you have work to do and a mandate to satisfy, the absence of a senior functionary interferes with that,” he stressed.
Opposition-nominated Gecom Com-missioner Sase Gunraj agreed with Lowenfield that filling the vacancy in a timely manner is necessary.
“We [the commissioners] cannot meet in the absence of a Chairman. If we can’t meet, we obviously can’t make decisions and even in the absence of that commission meeting, we still remain commissioners and we are not provided with any report whatsoever,” he told Stabroek News recently.
In May, he had raised similar concerns and he said that the situation has now become frustrating.
Gunraj, who is a practising attorney, made it clear that there are issues arising from the absence of a Chairman, particularly as it relates to the commissioners’ ability to access information. He said that if any commissioner wants information from the Gecom Secretariat, they have to write and request it. “Nothing is forthcoming. We don’t know what is happening. We don’t even know if people are going to work there because there are no reports coming,” he said, while reiterating that the entire situation is frustrating.
“I have a constitutionally-mandated duty to perform as Commissioner of the Guyana Elections Commission. I took an oath to perform that duty and I believe my performance of that duty is being stymied by the non-appointment of a Chairman,” he told this newspaper, while saying that nine months “is too long” for an important constitutional body like that to be without a Chairperson. “We need a chairman now… the best time would have been nine months ago [but] the next best time is now,” he said, before adding that there is no other issue of notoriety engaging the attention of the public for such a protracted period as that of the non-appointment of the Gecom Chairman. “You have issues that arise and just as they arise they die in the normal scheme of things. We have had so many things happening in the course of these nine months,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the immediate past Chair-man of Gecom Dr. Steve Surujbally, when asked to comment on the delayed replacement, pointed out that the political leaders of this country are mature people and as such he is confident that in due course they will find the replacement. “Of that I have no doubt,” he said.
Asked if he would urge that the process to appoint a person be sped up, Surujbally, who served as Chairman for 15 years, said, “Obviously. Everybody is urging them to do that. We have some time in that we don’t have anything pressing right now and nothing that Mr. Lowenfield can’t do in his sleep.”
He spoke highly of Lowenfield’s competence and expressed the view that the Chief Election Officer has everything at Gecom under control.
On August 25, Jagdeo submitted his third list of nominees, comprising Joe Singh, a retired Guyana Defence Force Major General, who previously served as 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.
After his first list had been rejected, an application was made to the Constitutional court by businessman Marcel Gaskin for declaratory orders on the meaning of Article 161(2), which provides for the appointment of the Chairman, in hopes of it providing clarity for the selection process.
Acting Chief Justice Roxane George delivered an oral judgment in July and made the written version available to all parties earlier this month.
The judge’s ruling dismissed several of the notions that Granger held about the process and which he had used to reject the two previous lists 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 also 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 unacceptable.
On October 3, Granger indicated that he is still studying the list of nominees and intends to meet Jagdeo in the near future. Jagdeo is presently abroad.