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Jagdeo open to President suggesting instead of submitting names for GECOM Chairman

FLASHBACK: Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo meeting with President David Granger.

The Opposition Leader on Saturday dismissed the President’s position that he is also entitled to submit nominees for the post of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), but says he is flexible on unofficially discussing names that may be submitted by the Guyanese leader.

“Notwithstanding and in an effort to find consensus, the Leader of the Opposition is not averse to the President informally suggesting names in their proposed engagement for his consideration,” Gail Teixeira of the Opposition Leader’s Office told Director-General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo’s position was in response to government’s interpretation of the recent Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) judgement. The Ministry of the Presidency told the Opposition Leader’s Office on Friday that the President is entitled to also submit nominees based on this section of the judgment by the Trinidad-headquartered regional appeal court.

“The Court decided, therefore, that the most sensible approach to operationalise the Article was for the Opposition Leader and the President to communicate with each other in good faith and to perhaps even meet to discuss the eligibility of each candidate for Chairman before the list is formally submitted,” the judgment states.

The Ministry of the Presidency laid down the Opposition Leader’s response as a possible condition for Jagdeo and President David Granger to meet.

On Saturday, the Opposition Leader told the President through Harmon that there was nothing in the judgment that allows for a relaxation of the constitutional requirement for the Opposition Leader to submit six nominees, but instead it cited the need for respect of the process which allows for the President to pick one who is not unacceptable to him.

“Therefore, the judgment of the court must be construed as giving obeisance to the Article, rather than derogating from it. In this regard, it was never a matter of controversy that the list of six names must emanate from the Leader of the Opposition and the appointment of one therefrom, is exclusively the remit of the President,” Teixeira told Harmon.

She made it clear that Jagdeo has “examined with consummate care” government’s position that “The government interprets this to mean that both the President and Leader of the Opposition will provide nominees on the list of six persons”. Teixeira said “such an interpretation not only tramples upon the functional responsibility of the Leader of the Opposition, but also, may usurp it altogether,” she said.

Teixeira added that the CCJ was simply offering guidance on how the engagement between the Leader of the Opposition and the President must manifest itself “at which engagement names can be discussed informally, with a view to determining their acceptability to the President within the framework of Article 161 (2) of the Constitution.

The Opposition Leader reminded the President that the CCJ judgement states that “in our view, employment of the double negative ‘not unacceptable’ signals that an onus is placed on the President not to find a nominee unacceptable merely because the nominee is not a choice the President would have himself made.”

CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders, in handing down his judgement on whether President Granger’s unilateral appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson as GECOM Chairman after rejecting Jagdeo’s 18 nominees, had said that the President was not entitled to lay down eligibility requirements added to or at variance with the provisions of the constitution.

Saunders had 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 had said.

Patterson has since resigned after the CCJ’s ruling.

The regional court has found that Patterson’s appointment was flawed and unconstitutional because Granger had not given any reason for rejecting the Opposition Leader’s 18 nominees.

Patterson had voted with pro-governing coalition commissioners Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman for house-to-house registration before the next general elections. But, Jagdeo is adamant that elections be held in August or September with the existing voters’ list now that the CCJ has ruled that last December’s no-confidence motion was validly passed by 33 to 32 votes in the 65-seat National Assembly.