Newly-appointed Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice Claudette Singh on Monday vowed to make decisions based on Guyana’s laws and the constitution, while signaling that she would not tolerate any walkouts from meetings of the seven-member commission.
“I am just that, I can do something good for Guyana. There is one way: in accordance with the law, in accordance with the constitution, nothing else,” said Singh who was preparing to pack up her files and hand them over to the Guyana Police Force where she served as the Police Legal Adviser.
Singh’s declaration that she would stick to the law comes at a time when the High Court is hearing a case by Christopher Ram that concerns the legality and constitutionality of house-to-house registration and whether the now nine-day old exercise would collide constitutionally with the three-month time period within which general elections should be held unless there is two-thirds approved extension by the National Assembly.
Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire has said general and regional administration elections should be held by September 18 in keeping with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruling or at a later date if approved by the House. The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has so far refused to allow such an extension.
The GECOM Chairperson said she was committed to Guyana having “free, fair and transparent elections.”
Speaking ahead of assuming duty on Tuesday, the GECOM Chair plans to hold separate meetings with the three pro-coalition elections commissioners—Robeson Benn, Sase Gunraj and Bibi Shadick—and their pro-coalition counterparts—Charles Corbin, Vincent Alexander and Desmond Trotman—before a full meeting of the seven-member body.
Justice Singh very early signaled her intolerance for any walkouts from commission meetings as the PPP commissioners had been doing for several months under the then Chairman, Retired Justice James Patterson who resigned after the CCJ said his unilateral appointment by President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo was flawed and unconstitutional.
“I endeavour, I believe in inclusivity and I will speak to everybody and I do not believe in people walking out when they are in disagreement. I believe in sitting down and hammer(ing) out whatever is the problem; not the media will try our problems. We will have to determine our problems,” she said.
Asked how she felt being the first female GECOM Chairperson, she said that did not matter to her even as she recalled being regarded as a tough judge. “When I was on the bench I was called the Iron Lady, I was called the Hanging Judge so what’s the difference?”
The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) of which elections commissioner Desmond Trotman is a member has already publicly called on the GECOM Chairperson to resist pressures to call off house-to-house registration.
President David Granger and his People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) have been saying that the voters list is bloated and defective.
But, Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield has said the existing list, which expired on April 30, could be refreshed and subjected through a claims and objections period to hold free and fair elections.
“Today is a good day for the Republic of Guyana,” President Granger said at Justice Singh’s swearing-in ceremony before the Guyanese leader.
The President said that free, fair, credible and timely elections are essential elements of a democratic state.
“The Elections Commission is not a plaything. Its independence is a condition for engendering confidence and ensuring public trust in the electoral system and for the efficient execution of elections,” the President said.
Justice Singh’s appointment means that the Elections Commission can resume its work after a hiatus of more than a month.
“It is now properly constituted and can continue to prepare for the conduct of free, fair, timely and credible elections. It fulfills the Caribbean Court of Justice’s ruling, in relation to Article 161(2),” the President stated.
The Head of State, in wishing Justice Singh every success, said integrity, impartiality and independence are critical to the electoral process.
“I thank her for accepting the appointment. I am confident that she will discharge her duties in accordance with her oath of office and in compliance with the Constitution and our election laws,” the President said. He also thanked the Leader of the Opposition for “swiftly coming to a successful conclusion of the process for the selection of a Chairperson of the Elections Commission in accordance with the Constitution and the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice”.
President Granger recommitted the State to providing every assistance to the Commission to enable it to conduct General and Regional Elections in the shortest time possible.
Justice Singh has many years of legal experience as a jurist and as a practitioner of the law to her appointment. She is respected widely for her integrity, impartiality and independence.
Justice Singh was called to the Bar in London in 1973 and admitted to the Bar in Guyana in 1976. She served as the Deputy Solicitor General and as a Puisne Judge and a Justice of Appeal. She led the way for the Modernisation of the Justice Reform Project during her tenure at the Attorney General’s Chambers.