President David Granger on Wednesday highlighted that the High Court has confirmed that he has the right to select a “fit and proper” person to become the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), just days after the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) signaled that it might join in appealing the ruling by Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire that the President could reject the entire list and appoint someone of his choice;
“I am studying that opinion and I am looking at the implications of that opinion and the decision that I have to make. It was quite clear that among everything she has written, she has not interfered with the President’s right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to select a person who is fit and proper.
And in this regard, I will continue to do what the Constitution calls upon me to do-select a person who is fit and proper. Nothing the Chief Justice wrote has prevented me or inhibited my exercise of that authority or that power,” the President told reporters at State House after accepting the credentials of foreign envoys to Guyana.
So far Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has submitted three lists totalling 18 nominees, but Granger has rejected two of the lists and is yet to announce a decision on the third list which includes former GECOM Chairman, Retired Major General Joseph Singh and Attorney-at-Law, Teni Housty.
The President on Wednesday said he would soon be meeting with the Opposition Leader, but it is unclear whether he would tell Jagdeo that he has rejected this third list and that he would be going ahead and name a Chairman. He hinted that the meeting could be held next week as there are a number of engagements this week.
Jagdeo last week frowned on a section of the Chief Justice’s written decision, based on a request for a constitutional interpretation by City businessman Marcel Gaskin, that empowers the President to reject a list of nominees and go ahead and appoint a GECOM Chairman who is a judge, retired judge or someone who is eligible to be a judge.
In part, the Chief Justice states, “It does appear to me that failure to submit a list as provided for speaks to the provision of an acceptable list, as discussed earlier. If by not choosing any of the persons listed the President thereby find the list unacceptable, the proviso to Article 161 (2) would apply and the President should then go on to appoint a judge or former judge or person who would qualify for appointment as a judge in Guyana or the Commonwealth to the post of Chairman of GECOM.”
In that regard, Jagdeo stated that the PPP would assess whether there should be a challenge and seek legal advice on joining an appeal. “Jagdeo disclosed that there will be consultations with lawyers to determine whether the PPP will join others in appealing the issue,” the PPP quoted him as saying.
The Chief Justice has also ruled that the Opposition Leader’s nominees do not have to include judge, former judge or a person qualified to be a judge, the President is not obliged to select a person from the six names on the list unless he has determined that the persons are unacceptable as fit and proper for the appointment and that he cannot deem the entire list unacceptable if one or more nominees is not fit and proper.
Justice George also ruled that the President is required to state reasons for deeming each of the six names on the list unacceptable. Previously, the President, in publicly responding to the Chief Justice’s ruling, had asked where in the Constitution states that he should give reasons for rejecting the nominees.
GECOM has been without a Chairman since veterinarian Dr. Steve Surujbally stepped down on February 28, 2017 although he had officially ended his 15-year tenure in November 2016.