AFC opposes delaying general elections for constitutional reform; PPP says no GECOM Chairman has implications for elections

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 October 2017, 18:25 by Denis Chabrol

AFC Chairman and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan; Attorney-at-Law, Nigel Hughes and Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira.

Chairman of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan on Thursday said he would not support pushing back holding general elections until constitutional reform is complete, even as the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) hinted that the protracted delay in appointing a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) would have implications for the next polls.

Appearing on a panel on governance at the Guyana Business Summit, Ramjattan was asked rhetorically by Attorney-at-Law, Nigel Hughes whether he believed that with time already lost that reforming the constitution could be done before 2020.

“I would like to ask him if, in reality, given that they have waited until the end of 2017 effectively nothing will happen now-it was a campaign promise- that this process has any chance whatsoever of any success prior to 2020…The reality is that I don’t personally believe it will be done given the fact that this consultative process is going to go around the country, it will cover all ten regions. And does he really have a realistic hope that this is going to be in place in time for 2020?” asked Hughes who had chaired a Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform.

Hughes’ question was backed up more pointedly by Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram who asked “what would be his and his party’s position if there are any attempts to postpone elections, like we had in 1990 under the guise of completing constitutional reform.” “I would not countenance, at this stage, any circumstance for the delay of elections and I would want to say that I would ensure, as Chairman of my party that is in this partnership with APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) that we do have the elections in 2020.”

Ramjattan expressed optimism that the reform process could be fast-tracked, but assured that he would not green- light delaying the next polls. “I think so, yes, but we have to have to fast-track many things but we have to get consultations going,” he said, adding that those mechanisms would include the appointment of an initial committee on constitutional reform. He said the pace of the “extraordinarily difficult process” would depend on  whether there is  consensus by Guyanese about which could last until 2019.

The lengthy reform process could include the approval of proposed amendments by a two-thirds parliamentary majority or a referendum.

A Constitutional Reform Bill was tabled in the National Assembly and is expected to be debated and passed by the National Assembly when parliamentarians return from their two-month recess later this month.

Meanwhile, PPP executive member and Opposition Chief Whip in the National Assembly lamented about the implications of the almost one-year long delay in appointing a GECOM Chairman.  Calling on President David Granger to appoint someone from the last list of six names in keeping with Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire’s decision, Teixeira noted that GECOM Chairman plays several major roles including signing the orders to begin the next cycle of continuous registration and acquire new identification cards, hold a next round of  house-to-house registration, to have preliminary and final voters lists  or for Guyana to go to elections at the local, regional or national levels.

“I don’t care what the US Ambassador (Perry Holloway) says the GECOM is not in crisis. He is not Guyanese, he is not going to vote in these elections. We are,” she said.

Teixeira urged that as a “sign of good faith” the GECOM Chairman be appointed because “it is going to become a flash-point” in the future.

Replacing Veterinarian Dr. Steve Surujbally as GECOM Chairman after he resigned last year November and departed in February, 2017 has been held up over President Granger’s rejection of two lists of six names each that had been submitted by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.

The latest batch of nominees is made up of former GECOM Chairman, Retired Major General Joseph Singh; Attorney-at-Law, Teni Housty; Attorney-at-Law, Sanjeev Datadin; Aviator and businesswoman Annette Arjoon-Martins; Seventh Day Adventist Pastor, Onesi La Fleur and former magistrate  Krishnadatt Persaud. The President is yet to pronounce on this list, only saying he was studying it in the context of the High Court ruling.

Granger had cited the need for all of the names on the list to be acceptable and that preferably the appointee should be a judge, retired judge or eligible to be appointed 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.”

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.

The first rejected list had been made up of Governance and Conflict Resolution Specialist,  Lawrence Lachmansingh;  Attorney-at-Law and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram;  Retired Major General, Norman Mc Lean; Business Executive, Ramesh Dookhoo; Indian Rights Activist, Rhyaan Shah and History Professor, James Rose.

Those on the second rejected list are Retired Justice of Appeal B.S Roy,  Retired Justice William Ramlall;  Attorney-at-law and a former Magistrate, Ms. Oneidge Walrond-Allicock; Attorney-at-Law, Kashir Khan;  Attorney-at-law, Nadia Sagar and businessman, Gerald Gouveia.  The President has said that he has rejected the second list because he was not presented with a range of persons from which to choose one.