Transparency Institute Guyana Incorporated (TIGI) Presi-dent, Troy Thomas has called on President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to show maturity and to utilize compromise to bring an end to the current impasse regarding top appointments to the judiciary.
“If the president is not willing to do that and the leader of the opposition is not willing to do that, (then) neither of them are good politicians. That is plain as it is, if they are not willing to compromise at all”, he told the Sunday Stabroek in an interview on Friday.
Like many observers and members of civil society, he acknowledges that bringing an end to the non-appointment of a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice is of utmost importance. More than a decade has passed since substantive appointments to these posts have been made.
Granger in January informed Jagdeo that his choice for Chancellor of the Judiciary was Belizean Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, while acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards was his nominee for Chief Justice. The two met on the issue and Jagdeo at that forum asked for some time to deliberate on the matter. On February 7th, 2018, by way of letter, Jagdeo informed Granger of his disagreement with the nominees.
Though Jagdeo in his letter has indicated his availability to consult further in keeping with the constitution, Granger has never responded. Instead, he said that he was awaiting advice before he decides on the way forward. Then without stating what the advice was, he said that because Jagdeo did not offer counterproposals, no discussion can take place. Jagdeo has made it clear he will not be offering any counterproposals.
Calling the impasse, an unfortunate situation, Thomas questioned whether the executive should be responsible for such a decision given that the two branches of government (executive and judiciary) are separate and independent as guaranteed by the law.
Thomas is well aware that the constitution does not offer an alternative in the event that the consultations do not result in an agreement.
Article 127 (1) of the Constitution states that both the President and the Opposition Leader must agree on the nominees before the substantive appointments can be made. “The Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall each be appointed by the President, acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition,” it states.
There have been suggestions that recourse can be sought to the court over any failure to appoint. No one has so far signalled any intention to make such a move.
“So I would say because of the situation where they seem to be unable to work it out …it holds the country in a position that is not ideal…Yes it seems like we will need a way around them because it has not worked as it is. I don’t know specifically what that solution it…Maybe there needs to be a national discussion about it”, he said adding that it is clear that the executive’s control of the process is not working.
Thomas insisted that the longer the situation remains the same, the longer the judiciary will continue to function below the level of expectation.
“When you make substantive appointments those people can’t be influenced by the executive or the opposition. It is not to say that if they haven’t been substantively appointed, they can be influenced”, he said,
Thomas pointed out that the judiciary has distinguished itself in the last few years in its handling of cases against the executive. “They have said to the executive ‘what you have done is not correct’, which is a good sign”, he said, before reiterating that there is an urgent need for the current impasse to come to an end.
“…nobody is doing anything. If you look at the appointment of the GECOM Chair it was the same thing. That is not how we should run the politics”, he said, while stressing on the need for compromises.
“I think we got to demand better from our politicians”, he stressed, adding that “they are failing us by not being able to come to some decision on this matter”. He stressed that both parties are at fault as none has expressed a willingness to compromise.
“Our politicians have to negotiate and they have to make compromises otherwise things just will not work”, he said.
Thomas expressed TIGI’s willingness to participate in discussions with both sides, either together or separately.
“Yes, we would be happy if civil society organizations can come together and try to come up with a solution. It is something that we would be interested in and it a good idea”, he said. He was however skeptical that the politicians would accept any proposals to meet either separately or together with a third party to flesh out the issue.
“I want to send a strong message to our leaders that what they are doing is not in the best interest of the country. They need to somehow get the matter resolved with the knowledge that neither side will get everything that it wants”, he stressed.
Thomas used the opportunity to call on Jagdeo to provide reasons for his rejection of Granger’s nominees. “We don’t know why the Leader of the Opposition has rejected the President’s nominees and that was not explained …I thought that was the next logical thing”, he said.
He added that even if the law does not require him to explain, people are wondering what the reasons for the rejection are. He said that this ought to be stated in keeping with transparency and accountability. “We need to know why and that’s natural and they should give that to us even if the law does not require it”, he noted.
Justice Cummings-Edwards and acting Chief Justice Roxane George were appointed last year, weeks after the retirement of then acting Chancellor Carl Singh. Chancellor Singh was the acting head of the Judiciary for about 12 years. Granger, the then Opposition Leader had refused to agree to Chancellor Singh’s substantive appointment saying that that position as well as the Chief Justice’s post must first be advertised in the interest of transparency before there is any confirmation. The then PPP/C government had argued that such a process was not catered for.