Last Updated on Saturday, 21 October 2017, 17:17 by Denis Chabrol
The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) on Saturday threatened to take legal action to force President David Granger to disclose reasons for rejecting Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo’s 18 nominees and instead unilaterally appointing Retired Justice James Patterson as the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
The Bar Association reasoned that the President could only exercise his constitutional right to appoint someone from the judicial category if, in keeping with the High Court’s ruling, he provides reasons for his decision to reject the Opposition Leader’s nominees.
“The Bar Council expects that reasons for rejecting the eighteen persons leading to the unilateral appointment of Justice James Patterson will be provided forthwith to avoid the necessity of further litigation on this issue on its part,” the association said in a statement.
The GBA had recently participated in a High Court interpretation of Guyana’s Constitution that had been requested by civil engineer, Marcel Gaskin.
According to the GBA, Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire’s ruling is now part of Guyana’s laws unless a higher court overturns it and so the President has a duty to provide reasons for his rejection of the nominees.
“It should be obvious therefore that Guyanese cannot satisfy themselves that there is an objective and lawful basis for the President’s unilateral appointment of Justice James Patterson to that office unless publicly stated reasons for the rejection of the eighteen persons found by the President to be unfit to hold the office of Chairman of the Elections Commission are provided.
Only if clear and detailed reasons are provided which show cause why each of the eighteen rejected persons is unacceptable to the President for appointment to the office of Chairman of the Elections Commission would it be possible to establish that the Leader of the Opposition failed to submit a list as provided for by the Constitution,” the Bar Association added.
Saying that it was deeply concerned by the President’s unilateral appointment of a GECOM Chairman in more than 25 years, the GBA warned that the move could result in voter apathy. ” The unilateral appointment of the Chairman can lead to a loss of public confidence in the electoral process which is entirely undesirable having regard to Guyana’s experience in past elections,” the association said.
Meanwhile, the Bar Council took issue with the Alliance For Change for stating that each of the three lists supplied by the President fell short of what was required by the Constitution without providing legal submissions to the Chief Justice “so that the precise legal reason each of the lists fell short of what was required by the Constitution could be publicly known.”
The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and the recently formed pressure civil society organisation, Reform-Inspire-Sustain-Educate (RISE) on Saturday questioned the management capacity and political impartiality of the GECOM Chairman.
“His record of public service, senior management or promotion of democratic standards and practices is unknown. This calls into question whether he is indeed a more “fit and proper person” than many of those on the three lists submitted by the Leader of the Opposition,” the GHRA said.
Asked to respond to the human rights body’s criticism, Patterson would only say that, “that is not an accusation that I would distinguish with any response.”
He reiterated that his appointment as GECOM Chairman “is not my call; it is that exclusively of the President. It is that exclusively in his pocket. It has nothing to do with me.”
While the GECOM Chairman has already maintained that he is “apolitical”, RISE on Saturday labelled him as a
“long-standing PNC supporter and comrade”. Referring to unnamed critics, RISE said among the concerns raised are Patterson’s age “his clear allegiance to the PNC”, his recent profitable appointments by the PNC to several posts and the obvious fact of his acceptance of the office in the context of the current imbroglio reflects extremely poor on his own character”.
Contacted, a number of RISE executives could not immediately explain Patterson’s direct connection to the PNC, except that he was an advisor to Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, and a Chairman of a Commission of Inquiry into the fiery death of more than one dozen prisoners at the Georgetown Prison.
In the wake of the refusal of the third list of nominees that includes Retired Major General Joseph Singh, a former GECOM Chairman himself, and Attorneys-at-Law, Teni Housty who RISE described as “all men of impeccable character, integrity and political impartiality,” that organisation stopped short of saying that Granger has a hidden motive for selecting Patterson.
“RISE believes that the insulting dismissal of these candidates by the President is not because the candidates lacked integrity and independence, but specifically because they have integrity and could be relied upon to act in the high Office of Chairman of the Elections Commission with independence and impartiality. So why reject men and women of integrity? Is there not only one plausible answer?,” the organisation said.
Like the Alliance For Change (AFC), RISE said it would be pushing for wider participation and involvement in selecting the Chairman and six other GECOM Commissioners. “RISE believes that Civil Society must play a pivotal role in selecting nominees for appointment as Chairman and Commissioners of the Elections Commission so as to depoliticize the process. RISE will now advocate vigorously for this change in the upcoming constitutional reform process.”
For its part, the GHRA raised suspicions about whether a plan is being hatched to rig the 2020 general elections, as had been the case in the 1970s and 1980s. The PNC lost the 1992 general and regional elections that had been certified internationally as free and fair. “The decision by President Granger to set aside the constitutionally agreed process revives memories of the previous PNC-led administration which, due to its flagrant rigging of elections, cemented Guyana’s reputation as the democratic pariah of the Caribbean during that period. Are we heading in that direction again?”
Political Science Professor, David Hinds has said the selection of Justice Patterson all came down to race- the time has come for the selection of an Afro-Guyanese and someone in whom the President has confidence. He has said that any President would select a Chairman in whom he or she has confidence.
At the same time, he has said that the unilateral appointment of the GECOM Chairman has poisoned the political environment resulting to the extent that he does not expect consensus on major issues such as the oil and gas sector and constitutional reform.