Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had a duty and responsibility to “shape” the three lists of nominees for the post of Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) Chairman to limit President David Granger’s choices, his legal advisor Anil Nandlall said last evening.
“This is so because the president has no unilateral power of appointment. His power of appointment is constrained to the names submitted to him by Jagdeo. That is precisely what is contemplated by the Carter/Price formula and Article 161 (2) of the Constitution,” Nandlall, a PPP/C Member of Parliament and the former attorney-general insisted.
He was responding to a report published in yesterday’s edition of the Stabroek News under the headline “Jagdeo shaped Gecom lists to limit President’s choice,” which was based on comments made by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Attorney General Basil Williams SC during a televised interview last Thursday.
Williams asserted that Jagdeo gave flawed lists to get the desired chairman he favoured.
“The lists were designed in such a way to focus the president on a particular candidate that Mr Jagdeo desired from the very first list,” he said.
“Mr Jagdeo has been putting names on the list that he knows doesn’t qualify under the criteria because a lot of them can be accused of being friends and so on… the president could not select a person who is the friend of the leader of the opposition, a member of his party etc. Mr Jagdeo dragging out the President since December, 2016 and then he was abusing the president, saying he wasn’t fit and proper because he didn’t submit someone from the list,” he added.
“After three lists that were not properly composed by the opposition leader, deliberately so, the president, as part of the process, had to resort to the proviso otherwise we would not have had a chairman of Gecom,” Williams said.
But Nandlall told this newspaper that the Carter/Price formula was intentionally designed and Article 161 (2) of the Constitution was deliberately structured to authorise the Leader of the Opposition to select six names from which the president is empowered to choose one for the appointment of a chairperson of Gecom. “Simply put, what this means is that the president’s power to appoint a chairperson… is circumscribed, confined and limited to the names submitted to him by the leader of the opposition. He has no power to appoint outside of those names when such a list is presented to him by the leader of the opposition. It is only when the leader of the opposition fails to submit a list that the president can appoint a person of his own choosing,” he added.
In this regard, he pointed out, that Nagamootoo and Williams are both correct in their sentiments that Jagdeo “shaped” the lists. “The truth of the matter is that it is Mr. Jagdeo’s responsibility, if not duty, to ‘shape Gecom lists to limit the president’s choice,’” he added.
Nandlall stated that he has explained elaborately already that the names submitted to the president by Jagdeo must not necessarily be acceptable to the President but be in keeping with the constitution, which requires them to be not unacceptable to the president. Further, he said it is not every name on that list which must meet this requirement. “It is only one of the six names. The constitution, therefore, gave the president six options. In this case, by rejecting three sets of names, the president had eighteen options,” Nandlall stressed.
He told Sunday Stabroek that the point he wishes to emphasise is that the constitution does not permit the president to have his perfect candidate. “This is so because it is a bipartisan process involving his political rival,” he said, while adding that this fundamental point is simply lost upon those who mindlessly seek to defend the indefensible appointment by the President.
Retired judge James Patterson, 84, was unilaterally appointed by Granger ten days ago and the move has been condemned by the opposition and sections of civil society. Patterson was not among the persons nominated by Jagdeo.
Nandlall, on behalf of the PPP/C, has since filed a court action challenging the appointment and calling on the court to order Granger to make a selection from the 18 names.
According to Nandlall, the appointments made by presidents under the PPP/C administrations to the office of chairman of Gecom from lists submitted by leaders of the opposition in the past were not “perfect names for those presidents either.” He said that this is what the constitution prescribes and that Nagamootoo knows this. “He [Nagamootoo] was in the executive of the PPP and would have contributed to the selection of the chairman of Gecom on every one of those occasions,” he said.
Nandlall pointed out that the matter of choosing the Gecom chairman has “heavy political undercurrents,” and therefore a leader of the opposition will naturally try to compile a list that he is comfortable with and whom he reasonably expects the president to be comfortable with.
During the televised interview, Nagamootoo had mention that Dr James Rose, who has ties to the PPP, was included in Jagdeo’s first list.
“I am not here dealing with names and I don’t intend to get into all of that. I am dealing with politics… James Rose had been a candidate of the PPP. I had been in the PPP at a time when we were looking for someone to be the Prime Ministerial candidate for the 1990 elections, which was held in 1992. Dr James had been approached. Dr. James Rose was one of those that was approached and we indicated it to him that Dr [Cheddi] Jagan wanted him to run with him. If you came and you put James Rose, it meant that you felt that you can leverage an advantage in a list that is required by law,” Nagamootoo noted.
Nandlall, in response, told this newspaper that while Nagamootoo is making a fuss over Dr. Rose, he is only one of six names and the president had five other choices. “All the arguments that he advances in relation to James Rose, I can advance, with greater force, in relation to David Granger, whose name appeared on two lists submitted by Mr. Desmond Hoyte. Mr. Granger was so deep in the belly of the beast that he went on to become the leader of the PNC and is today the president. That is why, of all the persons, Mr David Granger should be the first one to understand how Article 161 (2) is expected to work,” he said,
Nandlall stressed that Nagamootoo would have been part of a PPP executive that rejected the name of David Granger twice. “He should now explain why he did so,” he said.