Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams on Tuesday signaled that the determination of a “fit and proper person” to become the next Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is a non-negotiable that only President David Granger alone can determine, and that all six nominees must be acceptable to the Guyanese leader.
The Guyana government made known its position hours after Granger received a letter from Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo requesting an urgent meeting to reconcile any differences of opinion over the qualifications necessary for someone to become a GECOM chair. Jagdeo did not accede to Granger’s request for a second list of persons not unacceptable to him (the President).
The Ministry of the Presidency acknowledged that Guyana’s Constitution does allow for “any other fit and proper person, to be appointed by the President from a list of six persons…” identified after meaningful consultation.
According to the Attorney General this places the determination of what is ‘fit and proper’ at the discretion of the Head of State and that every person submitted on the list presented by the Leader of the Opposition should meet that requirement.
“All six persons are required to be acceptable to the President. Therefore, if you bring in three of those persons, [who] are not in the range, you are actually reducing the options of the President. So it is beholden on the Leader of the Opposition to always provide a list of six acceptable persons or as they say six persons not unacceptable to the President. He is the decision maker. The President is doing nothing wrong.
In fact he has invited the Leader of the Opposition to send another list and he can do that several times until the Leader of the Opposition gets it right and he has to get it right, failing which the President will be forced to make an appointment. Of course at all material times he acts in his own deliberate judgement. So it’s entirely the President’s judgement,” the Attorney General was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Ministry of the Presidency.
Among Jagdeo’s six nominees are pro-People’s Progressive Party (PPP) History Professor, James Rose and Indian Rights Activist, Rhyaan Shah. Business Executive, Ramesh Dookhoo is regarded in some circles as sympathetic to the PPP-led administration especially under Jagdeo. The other nominees are Retired Major General, Norman Mc Lean, Attorney and Political Analyst, Mr. Christopher Ram and Conflict Resolution and Governance Consultant, Mr. Lawrence Lachmansingh.
The Ministry of the Presidency said the Head of State indicated that he will respond to the contents of Jagdeo’s letter in due course. The President has already deemed the list of six nominees acceptable, saying that none of them includes a serving judge or someone eligible to hold that post in Guyana or the Commonwealth.
Expanding on the legal qualifications set out by the Constitution, where Article 161 (2) on four occasions refers to judge level qualifications”, Minister Williams said that the President believes that the Constitution should be followed thoroughly in the selection of a Chairman for such an important post and if the need arises for several lists to be submitted by the Leader of the Opposition in keeping with the law, then this should be done.
The Constitution further states, vesting ultimate responsibility in the Head of State to ensure a properly qualified person fills the post, that “Provided that if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for, the President shall appoint a person who holds or has held office as a Judge of a Court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a Court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such Court or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge.”
The Attorney General said, “It is entirely at the discretion of the President. The Constitution gives him that power to determine, who is a fit and proper person. The Leader of the Opposition ab initio (in the beginning) really has to address his mind to what the Constitution requires.”
President Granger subsequently requested that the curricula vitae of the nominees be provided to him and upon careful examination of same, concluded that the Opposition Leader’s list is not in keeping with Article 161 (2), beyond the fact that it provides six names.