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Caribbean Court finds Granger’s appointment of GECOM Chairman “flawed”

Retired Justice James Patterson taking the oath of office before President David Granger as the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Tuesday ruled that President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was “flawed” and that the President and the Opposition Leader should meet before to arrive at a list of six acceptable nominees from which one person would be selected.

“In view of the imposition on the Leader of the Opposition of criteria that were not sanctioned by the constitution and in view of the absence of cogent reasons for deeming unacceptable the candidates on the lists provided, the court concluded that the process that was followed in the appointment of Justice Patterson was flawed and in breach of Article 161(2) ,” CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders said.

Granger’s appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson in 2017 had been challenged by Executive Secretary of the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Zulfikar Mustapha in the Guyana High Court and the Guyana Court of Appeal where the politician had lost the case and upheld that the President’s appointment of Patterson was constitutional.

Reading the judgement, Justice Saunders described President Granger’s appointment of Patterson as “unfortunate”. He said lawyers for the parties would be invited to make representation for consequential orders.

Saunders said the President was not entitled to lay down eligibility requirements added to or at variance with the provisions of the constitution.

He said the President and the Opposition Leader must communicate in good faith and arrive at a list of six names that are acceptable to the President after which the list would be formally submitted to the President. “The list comprising those six persons must then formally be submitted to the President by the Leader of the Opposition and the President must then select a Chairman from among those names . In the court’s view, such an approach gives the President a role in the identification of the six names but obviates the possibility that after the formal presentation of the list, the President could suggest that one or more of the names or the entire list is unacceptable,” Saunders said.

Jagdeo had submitted a list of 18 names which Granger had rejected.

The CCJ reasoned that the President could not resort to unilateral appointment of a GECOM Chairman if the Opposition Leader “demonstrates a willingness to engage in good faith (in) the process outlined”.

Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee added that “given the modern trend towards openness, fairness and transparency and the historical background of electoral reform in Guyana and the amendments to Article 161(2) of the constitution, there was a duty on the President to give reasons for rejecting the lists submitted. The giving of reasons will ensure transparency and accountability to the people, avoid unilateralism and arbitrariness and engender public trust and confidence in the process.”

The Trinidad-based regional court said President Granger, who followed an “unfortunate process” was not entitled to lay down requirements that were in addition to or at variance with what had been spelled out in the constitution.