The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Political Science Professor David Hinds and outspoken political commentator, Ramon Gaskin on Wednesday slammed President David Granger for virtually dismissing a High Court ruling on how the Constitution should be interpreted for the appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Gaskin was particularly angered at the fact that Granger earlier Wednesday dismissed Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire’s position that while the President was not required to give reasons for rejecting the Opposition Leader’s nominees, the Guyanese leader should do so in the interest of democracy and good governance.
Gaskin noted that Article 111 (1) of Guyana’s Constitution states that “In the exercise of his functions under this Constitution or any other law, the President shall act in accordance with his own deliberate judgment except in cases where by this Constitution or by any other law, he is required to act in accordance with the advice or on the recommendation of any other person or authority.” In this case, Gaskin noted that the President is required to consult with the Opposition Leader and in that context he ought to give reasons as part of the consultative process.
President Granger’s apparent position is that he was not prepared to accept the Chief Justice’s interpretation. Granger said, “The Chief Justice gave an interpretation based on her perception of the Law and I will continue to act in accordance with my perception of the Constitution; that is to say I will not appoint somebody who I do not consider fit and proper.”
Ramon Gaskin heaped criticism on President Granger for apparently rebuffing the High Court’s interpretation as was requested by city businessman, Marcel Gaskin. Ramon Gaskin said the President has no other option but to carry out the decision of the court. “The President has to carry out the decisions of the Court faithfully and unfailingly and that is part of his Oath of Office- to uphold the Constitution and the decision of the Honourable Court and any departure from that would mean we are going down a slippery slope of authoritarianism. We have been there already and we cannot go back there,” Ramon Gaskin said.
Professor Hinds warned President David Granger against a narrow and strict constructivist interpretation of the Constitution and instead accept the Chief Justice’s broader contextual reading of the supreme law.
“What it sets up here is a disagreement between two branches of government on the interpretation of the Constitution and this would be most interesting. In the final analysis, it is the judicial branch that has the final say on the interpretation of the Constitution so this is interesting to see where it goes,” WPA Executive member, Professor Hinds told Demerara Waves Online News.
Favouring the Chief Justice’s view that the eligible category of persons should not be largely restricted to judicial persons but to any other fit and proper person who meets the threshold of independence and impartiality, Hinds called for political consensus on who is appointed GECOM Chairman for fear that the loser could claim being cheated. “My view is that the President should be a little bit more flexible in terms of his approach to the appointment of Chairman of GECOM. I think in the end it will serve all of us well rather than him sticking to a narrow reading, a narrow strict legal reading of the Constitution,” said Hinds who spoke in his personal capacity and not an executive member of the Working People’s Alliance.
The Political Science Professor said the President’s stance sets up a tug-o-war between the President and the Opposition Leader because Jagdeo would take strength from the Chief Justice’s ruling as the country heads into the crucial 2020 general and regional elections. Hinds said the Opposition Leader appears to be baiting the President into unilaterally appointing the GECOM Chairman because he would give the PPP an opening that that is part of a grand scheme to rig the elections.
The PPP’s Shadow Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall charged that the President’s position amounted to “an aggravated assault on the doctrine of Separation of Powers, the Constitution itself and on the Chief Justice of this country. “They are the most intemperate and contumacious utterances emanating from a Head of State and directed to a Chief Justice in the English speaking Caribbean in recent memory,” said Nandlall who is a former Attorney General.
“The President must understand that in the face of a pronouncement from the Judiciary on legal and constitutional matters, his obdurate and obstinate personal perceptions of what the Constitution says or means fade into oblivion and must yield in deference to those judicial pronouncements, whether he agrees with them or not. That is the unconditional and unqualified duty of every citizen of this land, without exception,” Nandlall added.
Unfortunately, the President’s remarks are not isolated. To understand the gravity of this situation it is necessary to examine the President’s remarks against a larger mosaic of similar conduct from other functionaries in his Administration. The Attorney General, the Chief Legal Advisor of the Government, is on record of unleashing a most scandalizing attack on the former Chancellor of the Judiciary, as a result of a recent decision delivered by the Court of Appeal of which the Chancellor was the President. This was followed by the very Attorney General launching another contemptuous tirade against a High Court Judge in open court causing that Judge to unceremoniously walk off the bench and lodging a letter of complaint with his superiors.
Nandlall pointed to the legal track-record of the more than two-year old David Granger-led coalition, saying that Guyana appeared firmly on the road to authoritarian rule. “They all support a contention which I have consistently advanced over the last two years that there is a rise of authoritarianism in Guyana and that the authoritarian perceives democratic and constitutional institutions as nothing but obstacles. This recent incident has again vindicated my contentions.”
The PPP Executive member called on all Guyanese to protect and preserve the independence of Guyana’s Judiciary and similar independent institutions. “It is only the Judiciary and those institutions which will restrain this Administration from continuing to violate the rule of law, our Constitution and the civil liberties of our citizens. We need them now more than ever,” he said.
Prior to the President’s position on Thursday, Marcel Gaskin had publicly indicated that he would be appealing an aspect of the Chief Justice’s ruling because she ventured into an area that she was not asked to examine.