As a proud member of the Guyana Bar Association, I took grave offence when I read a letter written to the editor by Rickford Burke and published in the press on the 21st Feb, 2018, seeking to denigrate an association of some of the most distinguished professionals in Guyana.
Though I must admit at the outset that I am unfamiliar with Mr Burke’s vast work of distinction (or the large mass of members of the Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy) that licenses him to arrogate to himself the liberty of such a public statement let alone a public written statement, I am duty bound to defend not only the association I am a member of but the proud profession I represent.
Mr Burke’s statement included the following falsehoods:
Falsehood number one: Mr Burke states that President Granger “affirmed a desire to appoint substantive office-holders as the country cannot be without a Chancellor and Chief Justice. Since 2005, the nation has been without a substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice. Unless the GBA is clairvoyant, these comments by the President constitute the established record and the only basis upon which the GBA can objectively comment or premise legal opinion … caused the association’s statement to be without merit.”
Factual Response: The President’s very own Minister of the Presidency Joseph Harmon, is quoted in an article published on the 8th Feb, 2018, on Demerarawaves.com as saying, “(t)here is a constitutional position which we’ll look at and if in fact, there is no agreement for them to be appointed in the substantive position, then, as I said, there is constitutional provision for them to be appointed otherwise.” The article went on further to say that “Harmon declined to say whether, using other constitutional provisions, they would be appointed to act or substantively.” The Minister of the Presidency refused to put paid to any speculation that there would be a move by President Granger to make the substantive appointment of the respective positions. Furthermore, recent history has proven that even when President Granger was quoted in the press as saying that he would not unilaterally appoint the Chairman of Gecom this was shortly thereafter proven to be false.
Falsehood number two: Mr Burke states, “(i)f the GBA has a genuine concern about the President’s fidelity to the Constitution, it should have met with or written the President and Opposition Leader and conveyed its opinion on Article 127, as well as the corrosive impact of the political ‘acting’ game on the judiciary.”
Factual Response: Teni Housty as Vice President of the GBA made a public statement which was published in the Guyana Times on the 20th December, 2017 doing exactly that which Mr Burke suggests should have been done. Further, the GBA held its annual Bar Dinner in November of 2017 when none other than the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Justice Denis Byron, was invited to give the feature address where he spoke almost singularly on the “corrosive impact” of acting appointments on the judiciary. Justice Byron’s statements were carried by almost all of the media houses in Guyana (see eg Nov 15th 2017 Stabroek News).
Falsehood number three: Mr Burke says the GBA “can raise hell and sue the President to overturn his action” should President Granger make substantive appointments without the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition for the positions of Chancellor and/or Chief Justice.
Factual Response: After almost three years the elections’ petition is yet to receive a hearing let alone go through the appeal process despite the fact that we are a mere two years away from another election. The case seeking to quash President Granger’s unilateral appointment of Justice Patterson as Gecom’s chairman has not even had its first ruling as yet. So, in theory it is true that the GBA can seek to overturn such an action by President Granger but in reality the sloth of the justice sector denies an effective resolution of such an exercise.
Falsehood number four: Mr Burke says that the “GBA’s silence then and sudden voice now demonstrates a worrying pattern”.
Factual Response: On the issue of acting appointments, the GBA has spoken out against such for close to a decade, and reference for evidence of such can be sought in a letter dated November 12th, 2012, published by the Kaieteur News by Brynmor T I Pollard, where he cites Teni Housty and Nigel Hughes for making public statements against the acting appointments. On the issue of the GBA having some kind of newly found voice, maybe Mr Burke may want to ask Ronald Burch-Smith or Timothy Jonas about the numerous critical statements made on behalf of the GBA under their respective recent tenures as President of the GBA.
In light of the refutation of the flagrant falsehoods, Mr Burke owes the GBA an apology, failing which members of the GBA will be left with a Hobson’s choice to rebuke or ‘ri-burke’ his totally uninformed and rather embarrassing statement.
Charles S Ramson