Longtime Working People’s Alliance (WPA) activist Desmond Trotman, 71, was yesterday sworn in as the newest member of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) amidst criticism by governing coalition partner the Alliance for Change (AFC), which said it expected that the appointee would have been either a woman or a youth as it had proposed.
Trotman took the oath of office before President David Granger at a swearing in ceremony at State House, where no AFC member was present.
“…The AFC as a party, I can tell you, is deeply disturbed and disappointed that it was not chosen again to name the replacement. This is an ongoing saga. It has been ongoing at least eight years, I would say, between the [former] opposition parties. We had been promised the position for some time and we had really hoped that, having been seen as a worthy party of the coalition, that we would be seen as worthy to name one of our ranks in the position,” AFC Leader Raphael Trotman (no relation to Desmond Trotman) told reporters at a symposium before the swearing in ceremony.
Granger, however, justified the selection, saying that the WPA nominee, who will be 72 later this year, was “fit and proper” and his expansive experience played a part in him being chosen ahead of several other coalition partner nominees.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a consultation at the Marriott Hotel, in Kingston, Minister Trotman noted that the president had earlier in the day informed him of the selection.
“The name of course is well-known to us …he had laboured in the vineyards for so many years, he is known to be a strong fighter for principles and there is no doubt that he would do well,” he said, while noting that his party has the highest regard for Trotman and his abilities.
The AFC had previously identified Trevor Williams as its nominee, with Beverley Alert as the party’s next choice in the event that the president did not find the former favourable.
“So while we admire and have admired Mr Trotman’s work and we wish him well, we are entirely disappointed in the process; that once again the AFC feels that an injustice has been meted out to it,” he said.
In a statement later in the day, after the Management Committee of the party met, the AFC said it was “disappointed and disturbed that it could not be represented on the Commission,” which it has been seeking for a decade.
“Further, acknowledging that 65% of the electorate is under the age of 40 years, the AFC believes that the appointment of the Gecom commissioner should have taken this salient point into consideration. In this regard, the rank and file members of the AFC have expressed reservation about the appointment and were expecting the new commissioner to be a youth or a woman as was proposed by the party,” the AFC statement said, while adding that this issue reinforces the position of the party’s National Executive Committee for the review of the Cummingsburg Accord that governs the coalition partnership.
The party’s stated preference for a youth or a woman may be seen as a glancing attack on the recent unilateral selection by President Granger of 84-year-old James Patterson as Chairman of Gecom. The party has faced sustained criticism recently over its capitulation to APNU on key issues and its support for Patterson’s appointment.
When asked about Minister Trotman’s assertions after the swearing-in ceremony, President Granger noted that the coalition comprises six parties, each of which was asked to submit a nominee. “Every party made nominations… the PNC made a nomination,” he said, before explaining that it was his judgement as regards to who is “fit and proper” that prevailed and led to the selection of Trotman. Granger is the leader of the PNCR.
He stressed that he is empowered under the Constitution to exercise his judgement in this particular matter. “I believe that when all of the nominations are looked at, Mr. Trotman is the fittest person,” he said, before adding that among the standout qualities he found was his experience, which is something that cannot be faked.
Asked why he did not seek a nominee each from APNU and AFC as opposed to one from each coalition party member, Granger explained that he felt that all the parties in the coalition ought to have been consulted on the matter. “Every party in the coalition is represented in the National Assembly and that is how I do my business. I consult with everyone,” he said.
With regards to the AFC’s absence at the swearing in ceremony, the president said that it is not a prerequisite for the representatives of the parties to be present. He explained that such events would normally see the presence of the Minister of State and the Director of Protocol. “There is no rule as to which ministers will attend and Mr. [Desmond] Trotman is free to invite his own relatives and people who he wants to invite,” he added.
Among those present at the swearing in ceremony were representative of the National Front Alliance (NFA) and Minister of Labour Keith Scott, representative of the Guyana Action Party (GAP) and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock, WPA co-leader Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine and WPA executive member Tacuma Ogunseye.
Meanwhile, the newly appoint commissioner, who is a former APNU Member of Parliament (MP), said that his experience was garnered over the last 30 years. He said that he has interfaced with commissions at different levels. “So, I think I bring some value to the commission. More importantly, I believe that in keeping with the president’s wishes of wanting to ensure that the commission works to ensure that there is free and fair elections, that my contributions are going to be important at that level,” he added.
Making it clear that he will sit on the commission as a Guyanese rather than a politician, Trotman expressed hope that his fellow commissioners have adopted a similar stance. “I believe that the commissioners representing the government side will understand the importance of adopting a position that advances the interest of the nation and I would hope that the commissioners on the other side would take the same position,” he said, while expressing hope that the decisions arrived at by the commission will advance the interest of the people as distinct from the interest of political parties.
Asked about any possible conflicts of interest which would arise out of his employment at the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), he said he did not know of any law that disqualified him from holding both positions.
“If there is… I am going to step down in favour of remaining a member of the Guyana Elections Commission,” he said, before adding that he looked at the laws as recent as Thursday night after speaking with President Granger and up to that point he did not see anything that said that he could not hold both positions. “But if it is that wiser counsel will offer the suggestion or some advice that I am not eligible to hold both positions, certainly I will resign in favour of holding the position of member of the Guyana Elections Commission because though I see both jobs as being important, I do believe that in this particular phase that we are in that it is important to ensure that the commission advances the country’s interest and I believe that the best way to do it is by me identifying with the work of the elections commission if that becomes necessary,” he added.
Trotman is filling the vacancy created after Commissioner Sandra Jones passed away at the start of the week. A moment of silence was observed for Jones before the swearing-in ceremony.