In the wake of concerns that Retired Justice James Patterson was hand-picked to become Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) because he is a loyalist of the largest party in the governing coalition, President David Granger on Monday debunked claims of the elections chief’s party membership.
Granger, who is also leader of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), said Patterson has a never a member of that party. “I am not aware of that. I have never seen him at the PNC, never,” Granger said, when asked whether Patterson is or was a PNC member.
The President did not make himself available for many questions after the members of the Local Government Commission were sworn in before him on Monday. He has not held a press conference for more than two years, the lone one having lasted about 30 minutes.
Justice Patterson has described himself as “apolitical”. “That will be my focus. I am apolitical. I have not been in politics and I don’t think I will ever be. I don’t have the stamina for that- politics, for the job, yes!”
Reform, Inspire, Sustain, Educate (RISE), a non-governmental organisation whose focus is on constitutional reform, at the weekend labelled the new GECOM Chairman as a “longstanding PNC supporter and comrade” and noted that others have pointed to areas of conflict of interest involving the 84-year old Patterson.
“Other critics have decried the suitability of the President’s choice of Chairman, citing Patterson’s advanced age, his clear allegiance to the PNC, his recent and profitable appointments by the PNC to several posts, and the obvious fact that his acceptance of the Office in the context of the current imbroglio reflects extremely poorly on his own character,” RISE said in a statement.
RISE Executive Member, Marcel Gaskin told Demerara Waves Online News on Monday that one of the major concerns is that Patterson is a member of a Facebook group named “Rally Around the PNC” and that alone calls into question his suitability and impartiality. “If Patterson is a member of a group called Rally Around the PNC then I can only assume that he is supportive of them being in government and hence a big no no for his being the GECOM chair,” Gaskin said.
Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) members have also fussed that Patterson’s name features on the PNC’s website as a pallbearer at the funeral of then party leader, Senior Counsel Desmond Hoyte.
RISE and the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) have suggested strongly that the manner in which Patterson was selected to the exclusion of reputable nominees like Attorney-at-Law, Teni Housty, Retired Major General Joseph Singh and Attorney-at-Law, Sanjeev Datadin signals that electoral malpractices might return in the 2020 elections.
“RISE believes that the insulting dismissal of these candidates by the President is not because the candidates lacked integrity and independence, but specifically because they have integrity and could be relied upon to act in the high Office of Chairman of the Elections Commission with independence and impartiality,” the organisation states.
“The decision by President Granger to set aside the constitutionally agreed process revives memories of the previous PNC-led administration which, due to its flagrant rigging of elections, cemented Guyana’s reputation as the democratic pariah of the Caribbean during that period. Are we heading in that direction again?”, the GHRA states.