President says to meet Jagdeo ‘soon’ over service commissions, judicial nominees

President David Granger announced yesterday that he plans to meet “very soon” with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on the appointment of several service commissions and the latter’s rejection of the nominees to the top two judicial posts.

“I expect that we’ll be meeting the Leader of the Opposition very soon to deal with a range of appointments. That [the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) Chairman] is one of them”, he told reporters at State House shortly after accepting the credentials of  Guatemala’s non-resident ambassador to Guyana, Mario Estuardo Torres. 

Granger was questioned on the absence of a PCA Chairman for more than a year following the removal of Justice (rtd) Cecil Kennard owing to his advanced age.

Asked if he has a nomination for PCA Chairman he responded in the positive. This newspaper was previously told that retired Justices BS Roy, William Ramlal and Claudette La Bennett were recommended for the post.

A source knowledgeable of the process to fill the vacancy had said that Granger had asked several persons, including two of his ministers, to submit names to him. Though the president said he will meet with Jagdeo on the issue, the law does not mandate him to do so. As such it is unclear why this appointment is being delayed.

Under the Police Complaints Authority Act, he is solely responsible for this appointment from a list of persons who are qualified to be a puisne judge of the High Court.

Granger informed that during the upcoming meeting with Jagdeo the reconstitution of the Public Service Commission and the Police Service Commission will also be on the agenda for discussion. The life of these two commissions came to an end since last year and have raised concerns as to why government is allowing so much time to elapse without them being reconstituted. The reconstitution of the Police Service Commission is of particular importance as its constitution is required for the promotion of senior ranks in the police force.

Later yesterday, Jagdeo said that he has received no formal correspondence, even as he expressed his willingness to attend a meeting with the president. “It is part of my constitutional duty. I have to do that and I have been calling for the service commissions to be in place. Our policemen depend on it, the judiciary depends on it, teachers, public servants. Those commissions are vital …they have to be in place (and) I am part of the process”, he said during a press conference at his Church Street office.

When asked how soon he plans to have this meeting, the President  responded “I cannot (say) I have to wait on Parliament for the nominations”. While noting that nominations for the Police Service Commission are already with Parliament, he said none has been made for the Public Service Commission. “As soon as the parliament completes its work I will ask the Leader of the Opposition to meet”, he said.

Impasse

Meanwhile with regards to the judicial nominees impasse, Granger said that he has laid all his cards on the table based on the advice given to him but will discuss the matter when he meets with Jagdeo. Granger was asked what the next step is given that Jagdeo has publicly said that he will offer no counterproposals.

“You know where we stood. I went through every possible legitimate means of getting the best advice. I have offered him my advice and he has rejected it and he has not come up with an alternate name and when we meet I will raise the matter with him again”, he said.

Asked to clarify if he was advised to ask Jagdeo for counterproposals, he responded “I did not so advise him but he knows who my nominees are. The public knows who my nominees are and I would like ensure that the…top judicial appointments, the Chancellor and Chief Justice are confirmed in the position”.

He made it clear that not having substantive appointments is a very unhealthy. “I would like to have them confirmed and the public knows my nominees and these are persons who have gone through a process of interviews. The advice I received is that they are fit and proper to be appointed”, he stressed.

Granger earlier this month had said that that it is up to Jagdeo to move the process forward while pointing out that discussions cannot take place if there is no counterproposal.

“The ball is in the court of the Leader of the Opposition. I have made my proposals to him, he simply rejected them. He has not made any counterproposals so there is nothing to discuss”, the President told reporters during a brief interview last Thursday following the conclusion of the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force workshop for judges and prosecutors.

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.

Article 127 (1) of the Constitution states that both sides 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.

Jagdeo subsequently made it clear that he will not be making any counter proposals.

“He is the president of Guyana he has to initiate…I have already given my position. I said I am prepared to engage further…He needs to get back to me about the mode of that engagement that is my position”, he had said.

Asked if he plans to take up the president’s offer, Jagdeo said “No…I don’t understand. I made it clear…He should be saying ‘I read your letter let’s find a way to move forward’”.

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.

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