The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) today flayed President David Granger for his unilateral decision on a GECOM Chairman and it also raised questions about the suitability of Justice James Patterson for the post.
A statement from the GHRA follows:
President Granger’s decision to abandon the constitutionally agreed process for selecting a new Chair for the GECOM has plunged Guyana once again into an election-driven crisis. While profoundly depressing, this development was predictable. The political leadership of both the Government and the Opposition – despite their differences – have for decades been at one in monopolizing management of the electoral system. The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) is appalled by the willingness of both parties – notwithstanding their moralizing – to subject the country to a prolonged, ethnically-fuelled electoral campaign, sharpened by the winner-take-all oil and gas bonanza.
Nothing in the manner in which both leaders addressed the issue of lists of candidates offered encouragement that the national interest would win out. The tedious temporizing and posturing over the selection process provided ample evidence that this threadbare procedure would not survive in the hands of two unyielding men. Whatever frustration the President may have endured over the more provocative inclusions on the lists presented by the Leader of the Opposition, he must now bear responsibility for what the country will have to endure over the next three years. The rushed announcement and hurried swearing-in of retired Justice James Patterson while the rest of the nation commemorated the light and peace of Diwali suggest a lack of confidence in the legality of what they were doing.
Both the selection and the manner of its announcement raise disturbing questions about President Granger’s intentions with respect to national elections. Rejection of the constitutionally agreed process would have been hazardous, even if the person selected possessed impeccable credentials obvious to all. Justice Patterson, however, has little to recommend confidence in his ability to lead the fraught and contentious Elections Commission. He attracted public notice for his involvement in the politically-controversial (case) of the survivors of the Maurice Bishop Government in Grenada, and his record of public service, senior management or promotion of democratic standards and practices is unknown. This calls into question whether he is indeed a more “fit and proper person” than many of those on the three lists submitted by the Leader of the Opposition.
Guyana’s electoral system is fatally compromised by the fact of being itself a creature of partisan politics. Membership of GECOM is formed by three nominees from each of the two major parties. The Chair is elected indirectly by a process in which the Leader of the Opposition proposes names from which the President selects the Chair. The national interest – as contrasted with party political interests – is represented by no one.
Jamaica, by contrast and as a Caribbean example, offers an illustration of a genuine attempt to insulate its Elections Commission from undue party interference. The Elections Commission of Jamaica comprises eight Commissioners, two each drawn from the two main political parties and four nominated and appointed by the Governor-General of Jamaica from civil society. The eight Commissioners appoint their own Chair from among their number. The Commissioners also nominate a Director of Elections who is then appointed by the Governor-General and is entirely responsible for the conduct of elections. The Director has the status of a Commissioner and a vote on the Commission.
The decision by President Granger to set aside the constitutionally agreed process revives memories of the previous PNC-led administration which, due to its flagrant rigging of elections, cemented Guyana’s reputation as the democratic pariah of the Caribbean during that period. Are we heading in that direction again?