President David Granger Thursday night defended the swearing in of 84-year old Retired Justice James Patterson as the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, and both gentlemen dismissed suggestions that age could be a major humbug in dealing with the political rigours of the job.
Granger explained why he thought Patterson was “fit and proper” to head the elections management authority after Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo failed to submit three lists of nominees- a total of 18 persons- that were acceptable. “I do believe he brings to the position years of experience in addition to which we are looking for a person of integrity, impartiality and independence. I think he is a person who is independent minded, he is impartial and I think he has all of the qualities which we require,” he said when asked by Demerara Waves Online News what makes Patterson fit and proper.
Asked why former GECOM Chairman, Retired Major General Joseph Singh was not selected instead, Granger said “I am not prepared to discuss the individual qualities of the nominees; taken as a whole the list was unacceptable to me and that is all I need to say in accordance with the constitution.”
The President said after scrutinizing the list that Jagdeo had submitted in August and considered the curriculum vitae of the nominees, he had realised that Jagdeo had not intended to submit an acceptable list. He said since September- “over the last four, five weeks we have been searching”. “We had searched. We tried very hard to find somebody who is acceptable to the Guyanese public as a whole and who conform to the constitutional requirement.”
The President said he exercised his powers “in the public’s interest” to resort to the Constitution that allows him to act independently to appoint a person of the judicial category to become the GECOM Chairman. Granger had long maintained from the inception that a GECOM Chairman should be a judge, retired judge or someone eligible to be appointed a judge.
He said no one had rejected his approaches to be appointed GECOM Chairman.
Justice Patterson, for his part, said the President asked him only earlier Thursday evening if he would serve as GECOM Chairman. “I was never approached prior to tonight (Thursday),” he said.
Moments after the President said the GECOM Chairman was not known to belong to any political party or express any political views or show any sort of partisanship, he (Patterson) said he wanted to see a united Guyana, not one that was racially divisive. “Try and fight for the unity of the country. It’s disheartening,” he said, adding that he does not want Guyana to return to a period racial tension like in the 1960s.
“That will be my focus. I am apolitical. I have not been in politics and I don’t think I will ever be. I don’t have the stamina for that- politics, for the job, yes!” he said.
The GECOM Chairman declined to speak on policy matters before going there to see what is happening.
With the Chairman now in place, the President hopes that GECOM will begin preparations for next year’s Local Government Elections and general and regional elections constitutionally due in 2020.
The Opposition Leader suggested that Retired Justice Patterson was quite old, but the President countered, saying that the former Chief Justice of Grenada was up to the task despite his age. “Yes, I am. me too.”
Asked whether he was up to the task of his new and demanding job, Patterson said, “the President thinks so and so do I”. He said the ability to do the job rather than one’s age matters. Patterson said he has been a student of the Bar and that could be more damaging intellectually and otherwise than politics, when asked whether he could cope with the rigours of the job including having sleepless nights during election periods.
Reacting to Jagdeo’s announcement earlier Thursday evening that his People’s Progressive Party (PPP) would be withdrawing all forms of cooperation with the Granger-led administration until it abides by Guyana’s constitution, the President said that it would not be in the public’s interest for him to do so but in the end he must account to his supporters. “He will be judged by history if he feels that in the performance of my constitutional duties he feels that it is a correct course of action to attempt to damage the public governance of this country,” Granger said, adding that he has not broken the constitution in any way.
The Opposition Leader said his party executives would soon fan out across the country to tell councillors that they must not cooperate with those from the governing A Partnership for National Unity+ Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC).
The President rejected Jagdeo’s claims that he had deliberately dragged out the process for selecting the GECOM Chairman because he had long preferred Justice Patterson. “I have never approached Justice Patterson prior to the reception of the third list and I have not dragged on the process. He has been the one who has brought three lists and all of the lists were flawed; all of the lists were unacceptable,” he said.
On Jagdeo’s accusation that Granger has now become untrustworthy, the Guyanese leader said, “I would not respond to Jagdeo about trustworthiness. I don’t know what he knows about trustworthiness. I would not respond to him.” The President appeared vexed that Jagdeo had said he was now unfit and improper to select someone from the list of names that he had submitted. “He has made a lot of allegations about me which I feel are quite unjustified. He referred to me as not being fit and proper and so on… I am not going to go down in the gutter to speak to Mr. Jagdeo. I am not going to do that. I don’t come from that political culture.”
The Opposition Leader has charged that the President has set the stage for election rigging, since it is clear that the GECOM Chairman has been hand-picked by the Chairman which would give the government an automatic majority on the seven-member Commission.
Three of the Commissioners are drawn from the PPPC- Robeson Benn, Bibi Shadick and Sase Gunraj while the three that were nominated by the APNU+AFC are Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Sandra Jones.