Newly appointed Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom), retired Justice James Patterson yesterday clarified that he was never substantive Chief Justice of Grenada but had acted in the position for a short period of time, a fact he accidentally excluded from the Curriculum Vitae (CV) he had submitted to President David Granger.
“My resume which I fashioned having not done one for about 40 years omitted the acting. Well if that’s a source of bother to them (critics) and they know otherwise that’s no concern there, that’s a fact that they can’t raise”, the 84-year-old Patterson told reporters outside Parliament Buildings while acknowledging that the omission was an error on his part.
Patterson who is also a former High Court judge was sworn in on October 19, two and a half hours after Granger met with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to inform him of the rejection of the third list of candidates and his selection of Patterson.
Patterson’s Chief Justice qualification was first raised by PPP/C MP Anil Nandlall days after the swearing in ceremony.
“In his resume, Justice Patterson states that he was the Chief Justice of Grenada in 1987. For the last three days I have spoken to several retired judges and lawyers from Grenada and in the Eastern Caribbean jurisdiction and all of them have confirmed that Justice Patterson was never appointed Chief Justice of Grenada. I have consulted a book which chronicled all the important post holders of Grenada and the Chief Justice of Grenada in 1987 is listed as Samuel Graham. I have received information that a Guyanese who worked for over 25 years in Grenada in a very high public office has advised the President that Justice Patterson was never appointed Chief Justice in Grenada, yet the President cites Justice Patterson’s alleged appointment as Chief Justice of Grenada as a basis of appointing him chair of Gecom,” Nandlall charged.
This newspaper had found online references to Patterson as the acting Chief Justice but nothing which stated he was appointed to the substantive post.
The CV, a copy of which was given to Jagdeo hours before Patterson’s appointment, stated that he was the Chief Justice in 1987; there was no specific time period.
Yesterday Patterson told reporters that he could not remember the exact time he served in that position. “It was a couple of years, not every long. I was there on contract and when my contract expired I left”, he explained.
He stated that he didn’t want to give an incorrect time period because the critics are “gonna have my head again”.
Patterson’s unilateral appointment which both Granger and the Attorney General, Basil Williams SC have sought to justify, has seen widespread condemnation from civil society and the opposition PPP has put government on notice that there will be non-cooperation.
The opposition has since filed a court action challenging the appointment of Patterson and calling in part for the court to direct the president to choose one of the 18 rejected nominees.
Asked to respond to the criticism, Patterson said “I have a classic response. No response”. He said that he would also not comment on arguments that the president acted unconstitutionally in appointing him. “I am not getting into that, other than saying that the president has been properly advised. That’s as far as I would go. He has his own intelligence. He has his own Attorney General and so he must listen to the Attorney General and listen to himself and a lot of interpretation of the law is common sense”, he said.
Patterson served as an advisor to the Attorney General and critics have asked whether at some point he might have advised on the question of the GECOM Chairman which would be a conflict of interest.
During the president’s address to Parliament yesterday, the opposition MPs sat in their respective seats holding placards, heckling loudly and drowning out most of the President’s presentation.
Asked if he was bothered by the opposition’s behaviour in parliament, he said that while he did not know if that was the norm, he was more amused than surprised. “Worse than this goes on in the British Parliament you know. I have seen members tek off their shoes and bang the desk and all of that but I am hoping that some degree of civility emerges. Otherwise the business of the country can’t go on properly”. He said that what occurred looked like the usual modus operandi and reiterated that it is not unusual behaviour for legislators.
“You really cannot be timid if you go into politics. That sort of things happened”, he stressed.
Questions have also been raised about Patterson’s affiliation to the People’s National Congress (now PNCR) and by extension the Granger-led APNU+AFC government of which the PNC is the largest member given that he was is a legal advisor and chaired a Commission of Inquiry.
Meanwhile, Patterson said that he is settling in nicely and will arrange to meet with the Gecom Commissioners later this month.
He said that the “good team” he has working with him has ensured that his settling in has been incident free thus far. Patterson explained that since his appointment he has been doing a lot of reading to get himself acquainted with his duties.
He said that the former Gecom Commissioner, Dr Steve Surujbally was abroad and having since returned they are scheduled to meet at 10 am today. “I am the new boy on the block and he (Surujbally) has a lot of institutional knowledge so I will tap from his resources”, he said adding that he wanted to have a talk with Surujbally before he met the commissioners.
Patterson could not indicate what his main focus for Gecom is now as according to him he is not the commission, just the chairman and that reading up and getting the advice of the “wiser heads” is his priority.
He assured that he intends to meet with the commissioners “as soon as possible”.
Days before Patterson was sworn into office, Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield had told this newspaper that the absence of a Chairman was undoubtedly affecting the operations of the Gecom. Gecom at that point was without a Chairman since February of this year.
“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 said, while urging the policymakers to understand that the issue ought to be sorted out as quickly as possible since there is work to be done.
Gecom Commissioner 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 had told Stabroek News.
He said that nine months was too long for such an important constitutional agency to be without a chairperson and he urged that a Chairman be appointed immediately.