The Bar Council of the Bar Association of Guyana yesterday said that neither appeals nor applications for orders act as a stay on the 90-day clock set in the constitution for general elections and it lamented that 54 days have elapsed without a date being set.
In a statement, the Bar Association called on all parties concerned including President David Granger, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) “to take such immediate steps as will avoid Guyana entering into a constitutional crisis and prevent the dire effects such a crisis could have on the country”.
Jagdeo and the opposition PPP have been calling for general elections within 90 days but neither Granger nor GECOM acted immediately to ensure that elections within that period was possible. The Granger administration in the aftermath of the December 21st 2018 motion of confidence refused to recognize it and instead proceeded with appeals to the Speaker of the National Assembly and then to the High Court and now the Guyana Court of Appeal. It is yet to publicly state that it recognizes the 90-day deadline since it initiated the challenges to the motion of no confidence. This reticence has existed even though Chief Justice Roxane George on January 31st upheld the motion of no confidence and cited the 90-day timeline in her ruling.
GECOM under the chairmanship of retired justice James Patterson has also not acted in recognition of the 90-day timeframe. It was only this week, nearly 50 days after the motion was passed that Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield produced timelines with the earliest being elections in 148 days. The 148-day timetable has raised queries considering that local government elections were successfully run off on November 12 last year.
In its statement yesterday, the Bar Association welcomed the decisions of the Chief Justice (ag) on 31 January 2019 in the three Actions arising out of the ‘No Confidence Motion’ which was passed in the National Assembly on 21 December 2018 and the “reasoned written judgments” issued therefor on 11 February 2019.
“We note the ruling of the Honourable Chief Justice (ag). at paragraph 108 of the written judgment in Attorney General of Guyana v Dr. Barton Scotland, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo and Mr. Joseph Harmon, Action No 2019-HC-DEM-CIV-FDA-22 as follows:
I hold that the NCM (No Confidence Motion) was carried as the requisite majority was obtained by a vote of 33:32. The Presi-dent and the Ministers cannot therefore remain in Government beyond the three months within which elections are required to be held in accordance with art 106(7), unless that time is enlarged by the National Assembly in accordance with the requirements of the said art 106(7).
In a statement released on 26 December 2018, five days after the passage of the motion in the National Assembly, the Bar Asso-ciation noted that it had urged that the results and consequences of the motion be accepted and that urgent preparations for elections by GECOM be started.
In that statement it was also said that the giving of effect to any contentions that there is some possibility other than elections being held within ninety days of the passage of the motion could lead to instability and democracy must be protected by the “unambiguous adherence” to the rule of law and to the provisions of Article 106(6) of the Constitution.
“To date, fifty-four …days have elapsed since the passage of the motion and no date has been fixed for elections within the requir-ed constitutional period or otherwise. Neither the filing of appeals nor applications for orders staying the operation of the clear timelines fixed by the Constitution can stop the time from running within which elections must be held. Only a resolution of the National Assembly supported by not less than two-thirds of all of its elected members can extend the time for elections if it is necessary to do so”, the statement asserted.
The statement added that by the provisions of the constitution, GECOM is required to be in a state of readiness to conduct elections at any time within three months of the passing of a ‘No Confi-dence Motion’ in the National Assembly.
“The Guyana Elections Commission is required by the Constitution to issue such instructions and take such action as appear necessary or expedient to ensure fairness, impartiality and compliance with the Constitution on the part of persons exercising powers or performing duties connected with or relating to the registration of electors or the conduct of elections.
“The Guyana Elections Commission and all other stakeholders required for the conduct of elections are bound by the operation of the constitution, the supreme law of Guyana”, the statement added.
PPP officials have accused GECOM of collaborating with the government to stall general elections.
The Bar Council said it was renewing its call on all parties concerned, including the President, the Leader of the Opposition and the Guyana Elections Commission, to take such immediate steps as will “avoid Guyana entering into a constitutional crisis and prevent the dire effects such a crisis could have on the country”.