Patterson’s appointment was an egregious breach of the Constitution

Dear Editor,

I am shaking in anger, livid, boiling with outrage. President David Granger last night abandoning all disguises, absolutely committed constitutional malpractice. As the majority of Hindus in Guyana celebrated Diwali, David Granger, without any warning appointed and swore in the new Gecom Chair. The new Gecom Chair, James Patterson, is 84 years old, a former High Court Judge and a pastor. He is also a serving advisor to the Attorney General, Basil Williams and served as the Chairman of a Granger-appointed CoI.

President Granger’s appointment of Justice Patterson was an egregious breach of the constitution. The Gecom Chair by law is not an arbitrary appointment and nothing in the constitution permits the President to make this appointment in his own deliberate judgment. That Joe Harmon and Basil Williams and others from the People’s National Congress would support President Granger in this act of constitutional malpractice is not shocking. Messrs Roopnaraine, Nagamootoo, Ramjattan and others from the WPA and the AFC, supporting Mr Granger on this issue dishonours the legacies of Cheddi Jagan and Walter Rodney and those who fought for freedom and democracy in Guyana. For the ABC countries which were not shy to give their opinions before May 2015, their silence now proves their acquiescence.

The Leader of the Opposition in an extensive exercise of consultations with the broad political and civil society named eighteen distinguished Guyanese citizens in three lists. They were professionals, some of whom were high court judges, lawyers, business people, former Chief of Staff and Head of the Army, a former Gecom Chair, etc. David Granger deemed all of them not “fit and proper”.

What is special about James Patterson that he is “fit and proper” and none of the 18 distinguished Guyanese were “fit and proper”? Nine of the 18 persons were lawyers, all of whom had extensive legal practices. Four persons were judges in the High Court, with extensive experience. At least 4 of them served as senior officers in the army, one of whom was a former Head of the Army, served also as a Chairman of Gecom and also served in various public service roles under at least 6 Presidents. One person has extensive knowledge of Gecom, having served as an election observer and worked with the UN in an independent role for all elections since 1992. He has more knowledge of the election process and Gecom than Mr Patterson by far. As far as I am aware, only two have previous political activities, one for the PPP and the other for the WPA, now part of APNU.

Having made “fit and proper” the criterion, Granger owes it to the nation to tell these distinguished Guyanese and all of us why they were not “fit and proper”.  Mr Patterson, a person not on any of the lists, is deemed more qualified and “fit and proper” than the others. He, therefore, must justify his pick, and tell the people what special characteristics Mr Patterson has that made him qualify to serve as Gecom Chair that none of the others had.

Mr Patterson is 84 years old. I am not one for whom age is a consideration for public service, even at the highest level. I did not consider the Jagans in their 70s as too old to serve as President. Neither did I consider Bharrat Jagdeo in his 20s and in his early 30s as too young to serve as a Minister of Finance or as the President of Guyana. Ashton Chase was in his 20s when he served as the Minister of Labour. Carolyn Rodrigues was in her 20s when she served as Minister of Amerindian Affairs. Age in no way is a consideration for “fit and proper”.

But David Granger made age a qualifying factor in judging who is “fit and proper” to serve in the public service or in a constitutionally-mandated position. In the President’s own words and from his own mouth, Prem Persaud and Cecil Kennard were dismissed from their constitutional appointments as Head of the PUC and the Police Complaints Authority, respectively, because they were too old to serve. Mr Patterson is older than both those distinguished Guyanese who were deemed not ‘fit and proper’ to serve because of their age. Like Justice Patterson, both Justices Kennard and Persaud were high court judges. Both of them served as judges in the Appeals Court and Justice Kennard was a Chancellor of the Judiciary. So what makes Justice Patterson “fit and proper” when Granger himself has told Guyanese that age matters?

Outside of the age concern, he also showed that some of the “fit and proper” qualifications that he himself outlined appear to disqualify Patterson also. In a June 3 Kaieteur News article, it is reported that Granger outlined various characteristics that he considers qualify a person as “fit and proper”. Among those is this gem: The person will not be an activist in any form (gender, racial, religious, etc). Mr Patterson is a practising pastor which makes him a religious activist. Again, for me, this is not an important factor in rendering a person fit and proper. The person’s religion or even if he is a religious leader, a pastor, a pandit, a moulvi does not matter. But it is Mr Granger who made it a requirement. Why is Mr Patterson exempt from this Granger-imposed requirement for fit and proper?

It has become clear that Granger always intended to appoint the Chairman in his own deliberate judgment, abrogating the constitutional requirements. From the start, he knew who he was going to appoint and he played the nation in a reckless game.

Silence is not an option.

Yours faithfully,

Leslie Ramsammy

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