As it seeks to rally support against critics of President David Granger’s appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson as GECOM’s Chairman, Minister of State Joseph Harmon last evening called on West Bank of Demerara residents to know the facts concerning the decision and be prepared to defend it.
“They say that false news travels fast, but tonight we are here to deliver the good news and even if it comes on the turtle’s back and you give it to your neighbours, it will withstand the lies and the ignorance that is going on in some other sections of this country,” Harmon told attendees at a community outreach, held at the West Demerara Secondary School.
“I have asked that we meet here that we can address this matter of national importance to all of us, it has to do with the election of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commissions,” Harmon added as he explained why he felt he was fit to speak on the issue since he also helped in decision making.
The Minister of State pointed out that the selection of the GECOM chair cannot be taken in abstraction or be based on just recent developments since it is rooted in a historical framework that the populace needed to be edified about.
He said that the issue of a Chairman for GECOM did not start now but came with an upset People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) who believed that their losing of the 2015 elections was somewhat attributed to or the fault of then Gecom Chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally.
So much so was the PPP’s grumblings and constant criticisms of the then Chairman that he informed that the stress was taking a toll on his health and informed Harmon that he would give up the post, the minister told the gathering.
“This whole thing started after the 2015 elections. But before the 2015 elections doctor Surujbally was a blue eyed boy. Nobody ever complained about Dr. Surujbally in the present opposition. They always felt that he was doing an excellent job. But when the people spoke on May 25…good change took place for all of Guyana. The change we had all called for and we all picketed and march and many houses in Guyana prayed for. But some people were not happy with that change because they feel they have the transport for this country they felt they owed Guyana and by extension all of us,” he posited.
“After the elections were declared and the APNU+AFC was sworn into office…they could not accept it and it started there. I want to go back so you don’t forget what is happening, that you understand the sequence and the pattern in behaviour of the opposition, so you can understand historical context and evolution of this thing so that you understand what is happening now,” he added.
Harmon said that after 2015 elections the PPP was not pleased with the declared results delivered by the then Chairman and started berating him.
“They started saying … Surujbally rob them this elections and all sorts of things. They took action to the High Court, they picketed GECOM (saying) ‘Who must go? Surujbally must go’. That was their tune. They pressured and pressured and until one day he came to me and said my health is failing and I can’t take this pressure. I will have to go. So Dr Surujbally, he sent in (his) resignation in November of 2015. He left and they were happy then because Surujbally was gone,” Harmon said.
“A few moths after they start up the tune again, ‘No Chairman of the Elections Commission, things rough, No Chairman means they plan to rig the elections and we gon thief’ …and in December of 2016 Mrs. Gail Teixeira wrote to say that in accordance with the constitution, the Leader of the Opposition proposed to name a list of persons for the consideration of his excellency. He submitted the first list and the President could not find a person acceptable to him for the position and he said so to Mr Jagdeo,” he added.
According to Harmon, Jagdeo asked for Granger to give him the characteristics of the person he was seeking to compile a second list. The president resorted to the constitution and pointed out to Jagdeo what the constitution said and in so doing Granger complied. Harmon said that he pointed Jagdeo to the law and that he should focus on the three items enshrined and that one says that the candidate should be a judge or qualified to be a judge of the High Court.
“If you understand simple logic, you will understand that if you have to get to three then you have to clear off one and two, isn’t that so? Clear one and two. But this gentleman decided he aint get time with numbers, so one two or three he just give we it,’ Harmon noted.
Harmon said that the President went out of his way to explain to Jagdeo not only who he was looking for but the characteristics of that person when “no other President in the history of the country ever did that” and gave written correspondence as for characteristics of a fit and proper. Jagdeo, Harmon said, supplied a second list but the president felt it did not meet the criteria set out by the constitution.
“Mr Jagdeo provided a second list and the second list aint had them things. But in the meantime, a citizen, Marcel Gaskin filed an action in the high court seeking certain declarations with regard to the exercises of the constitutional duties of the President,” he said.
He said that while waiting on the Chief Justice’s ruling he and other govnerment officials were subject to “a barrage of almost insults” on the process as a narrative was simultaneously being peddled by the opposition that the President was in breach of the laws in his rejection of the lists.
And when the Chief Justice did give her ruling, Harmon said that it concretized what his president was saying all along – that there were no legal requirements for the president to state or give any reasons for his rejection of the lists given that once it was not found acceptable to him he could reject it.
“She ruled there were no legal requirements for the president to state reasons for rejecting a list thought it was her belief, note the difference between law and belief…that in the furtherance of democracy and good governance he should. You have a situation here, the law says one thing and then the Judge believes…The judge is saying that there is no legal requirement but it is her belief. The law says one thing but I believe something else. Different people believe different things. If I ask u to stand up here and say who u believe one would say he believe in the almighty God, another Allah, the other in this, the other that…” he stated.
Jagdeo yesterday told a press conference that he would have submitted a fourth list if there had been a need but that Granger would have had to commit to the terms of how the PPP interpreted the Chief Justice’s ruling.
“I would have done it but this time he would have had to comply with the ruling of the Chief Justice. He would have to give reasons for rejecting the names on the list,” he said.
Harmon said that Jagdeo submitted a third list and even that Granger could not find acceptable and went ahead and according to the constitution and selected Justice Patterson. The third list contained the name of Major-General (Rtd) Joe Singh.
After Granger’s selection, Harmon said that the PPP machinery and others began “singing the tune” that the president was unlawful and criticizing Patterson’s age. “People pick up this tune and running with it, writing in the newspapers forming opinions that have no basis in fact.”
He called on Guyana’s citizenry to read and understand their constitution and decipher what is law and what is propaganda being spread to “get the facts under their belt” before they too comment on not only GECOM Chairman but other issues that are guided by law.