On June 2nd this year, after rejecting the second list of GECOM nominees submitted by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, President David Granger had this to say about the way forward.
“I’m prepared to work with the Leader of the Opposition for as long as it takes to have somebody selected who fits the criteria, satisfies the Constitution and is one that the people of Guyana could be happy with. I’m prepared to work with the Leader of the Opposition for as long as it takes, but I’m not going to give the people of Guyana the appointment of a person, who is not fit and proper in accordance with the Constitution or criteria, which have been laid out”.
That was then. However, by October 19 this year, without any hint to the public or to the Opposition Leader that he had grown impatient and would embark upon a unilateral course, President Granger rejected a third list and advised the Opposition Leader that he was going to appoint retired Justice James Patterson. In a matter of hours, Justice Patterson had been sworn in and the President had unilaterally terminated an engagement with the Opposition Leader that had lasted roughly 10 months. He had also unilaterally abrogated a June 12, 2017 joint commitment with the Opposition Leader for a bipartisan committee to quickly settle on a chairman were the third list to be rejected. The President had not even signalled before hand to Mr Jagdeo that he had erred in agreeing to such a committee.
The record would show that President Granger did not keep his word to exhaust consultations with Mr Jagdeo. Moreover, if there was a delay in the process of considering the candidates then a major portion of the blame has to be attributed to the President. Considering the need to supply six names not unacceptable to the President, the Opposition Leader would have had to do significant canvassing and cajoling to get prospective nominees to agree to be considered for what is an arduous and thankless undertaking. Once the names were submitted, the President’s task was a far easier one. With Guyana being such a small society, the President and his mandarins would have known within minutes whether the nominee fit their bill. Yet, President Granger took an inordinately long time with each list and at no point along the way did he suggest that time was of the essence and that if an agreement was not reached by a certain part of the year then he would act unilaterally.
Mr Jagdeo submitted his first list on December 21, 2016. President Granger then took 17 days to reject the list on the spurious ground that it did not contain the name of a judge, former judge or someone eligible to be a judge. He had been improperly advised by counsel and had his repudiation of the list been challenged in court he may well have had to select one of the original six names among which there were persons worthy of the GECOM Chairmanship.
The Opposition Leader then acquiesced to submitting a second list and began further consultations with various parts of civil society which was not mandatory but was seen as a means of broadening the pool of potential candidates. A second list of GECOM nominees was submitted to the President on May 2, 2017. Again, the President dragged out the process for a full month, 31 days to be precise, though he would have quickly been able to evaluate the well-known persons on the list. It was upon this rejection on June 2, 2017, that he declared he was prepared to work with Mr Jagdeo as long as possible.
A third list was submitted by Mr Jagdeo on August 25th. It contained the name of Major-General (Rtd) Joe Singh, a name that the President should have found impossible to reject but yet he finally did. It took President Granger 55 days before he could formally advise the Opposition Leader of the rejection of the third list and the parachuting of Justice Patterson into the position of GECOM Chairman. Yet on the night of the swearing in he said it was necessary to bring the process to a swift end so that the business of the country could go forward. Who was wasting time? The President is the one who would have to be judged harshly in this respect.
To make matters worse, at the swearing in of Justice Patterson at State House, President Granger said that he arrived at the conclusion that Mr Jagdeo had no intention of submitting the type of list that was required.
“I realized at that stage that after the submission of three lists that there was an intention on the part of the Leader of the Opposition to submit a list that is not going to be acceptable”, the President said.
Whereas in the political arena the perennial indulgence in one-upmanship is recognised, the President by his words went further and cast Mr Jagdeo in the mold of a leader who was duplicitous and scheming. That statement by the President effectively undermined the prospect for serious dialogue between the two sides and calls into question the judgement of Mr Granger and whether his intention is to create a politically unproductive environment between the government and the opposition PPP/C. It did immediately lead to the declaration of non-co-operation by the PPP/C with the government. It is also likely that the other half of the country that the Opposition Leader represents will construe from the President’s remarks that their input does not matter a whit, further deepening the political divide.
President Granger’s actions would also have the effect of roiling the political climate here. Investors would think twice about short to medium term plans and confidence in the economy and spending could be hit.
It remains the case that the President’s choice of 84-year-old Justice Patterson is inexplicable when ranged against the names that were tendered to him by the Opposition Leader. Further, one doesn’t appoint someone of such advanced age to a post as gruelling as GECOM especially if other candidates are available. Finally, by the President’s own criteria for GECOM candidates submitted to Mr Jagdeo after the rejection of the first list, Justice Patterson’s appointment breached several including the need to be well-acquainted with electoral systems and the proscription against religious activism.
These questions will now more than likely have to be finally settled by the court. That in itself is an expectation that can lead to more disappointment. Chief Justice (ag) George’s ruling on the questions posed in an action by businessman Marcel Gaskin provided ample sources of confusion. Why the judge in her judgment even referred to the proviso in Article 161(2) which apparently emboldened the president’s unilateral appointment is unfathomable. The court now has an obligation to render a decision that conclusively settles this question of eligibility, composition of the list and the President’s obligations and to do so with dispatch. The new rules that govern the court and the exigency posed by the GECOM matter must galvanise it into action and expeditious case management.