‘I must have a role’

…President says CCJ ruling guarantees him role in nominating candidates for GECOM chair
…insists role of President in crafting, hammering out list must be respected
…warns that failure to compromise could result in gridlock

WARNING that failure to compromise could result in gridlock, President David Granger said he must have a role in the selection of nominees for the Chairmanship of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as outlined by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and that role he made clear, must be respected.

The CCJ, in ruling that the appointment of Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson was flawed, had ruled that the process of appointing a Chairman of the Elections Commission must be consensual but the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, though agreeing to have the President submit nominees, have rejected all thus far, and has indicated that there is no “real role” for the President in the submission of nominees.

But President Granger, on Friday, said it would appear that there is a misunderstanding of the ruling of the CCJ on the part of the opposition leader. “As far as I am concerned, the interpretation (of the CCJ) is quite clear, and it means that the President must have a role… and I would resist any attempt to prevent me from exercising that function that has been given to me by the CCJ. The role of the President in the crafting and ‘hammering out’ of a list must be respected,” the Head of State said during a programme – The Public Interest. He noted that he is prepared to meet with the opposition leader to arrive at an interpretation of the ruling of the CCJ but for him, it is clear that what is required is the involvement of both him, and the opposition in the submission of nominees.

At the time, he was being interviewed by Ariana Gordon, the Deputy Director of the Ministry of the Presidency’s Public Information and Press Service Unit, during the ministry’s Public Interest Programme. His statements also come at a time, when the opposition leader has rejected his two nominees – Attorney-at-Law Kesaundra Alves and Justice (Ret’d) Claudette La Bennett, and has indicated that it is not for the President to keep proposing names for the position.

Ahead of that rejection, the President had cleared four of the opposition’s nominees, noting that those persons were not unacceptable to him and could be placed on the list of six that would be formally submitted to him by the opposition leader in accordance with the Constitution, and the declarations of the CCJ.

“I am not sure that the opposition understands the implications of the ruling by the CCJ. The CCJ made it clear that it is not altering the Constitution; it is interpreting the Constitution by suggesting that we move away from unilateralism…towards consensualism,” President Granger said. The CCJ, while invalidating the unilateral appointment of Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson, ruled that the President and the opposition leader ought to have met prior to the submission of the list, and consulted on names.

“The court decided that the most sensible approach to operationalising the article was for the leader of the opposition and the President to communicate with each other in good faith and perhaps even meet and discuss eligible candidates for the position of Chairman before a list is formally submitted,” CCJ President Justice Saunders said as he handed down the ruling.
As explained by Justice Saunders, President Granger said if both he and the opposition leader have a role in the selection of the Chairman of the Elections Commission, the process would be faster, and would result in a list that is pleasing to both sides. But the President made it clear that he is not simply there to observe the process.

“I am not a passive participant. I am not a passive observer to the process. I am an active participant in the process, and this is what we have been trying to do, and this is what I have been trying to get the opposition to understand that I cannot simply sit and wait for them to send the list because this is what failed in the past,” President Granger said.
He noted it was failure on the part of the opposition leader to submit a list that is not unacceptable to him that resulted in him invoking the proviso, which is catered for in the constitution in appointing Justice Patterson.

Article 161 (2) of the Constitution mandates the opposition leader to submit to the President, the names of six persons who satisfy the eligibility criteria, and, are not unacceptable to the President. “Provided that if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for, the President shall appoint a person who holds or has held office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court of who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge,” another section of Article 161(2) states, placing in the hands of the President, the power to appoint a Chairman of GECOM outside of the list provided by the opposition leader, once that list is unacceptable.

Given the recent occurrences of the past, President Granger said it is important to pay heed to the ruling of the CCJ, and the consequential orders that followed on July 12, 2019. “So it is every important that we pay attention to the spirit and the letter of the Consequential Orders, that is to say, the President must be given, must not may, must be given a role and it means that I have to be involved in the selection of nominees, before those nominees come back to me,” the Head of State said.

He added: “It is no longer a one-sided affair; it is no longer unilateral, it is consensual and both government and the opposition have to be involved, and this is why, the contact groups, the working groups, between the two sides have met four times, four times since the July 4, and we will continue meeting, in order to ensure that the ruling of the CCJ is implemented.”

However, he again warned against any refusal to meaningfully consider his nominees. “Well it is a recipe for gridlock. The important thing which the CCJ aimed at is to ensure consensualism, that is to say, there must be a spirit of compromise, there must be acceptance of the role of the President in hammering out the list, and similarly, both sides are to aim at having a list of candidates which are not unacceptable to the President, and unless we accept that principle we will end up in gridlock, and that is what we are heading for, if the opposition continues to deny the President a role in ‘hammering out’ that list,” the President explained.

While noting that the ruling by the CCJ is useful, he noted that adherence to that ruling would lead to an early conclusion of the process of nominating and appointing a Chairman for the Elections Commission.

“There is no way that the removal of the President’s role in the crafting of the list, the ‘hammering out’ of that list could result in an outcome that is consensual, that is acceptable. It would be spurious if the opposition insists on exclusively crafting that list or unilaterally crafting that list. The CCJ’s ruling makes it impossible for that to occur,” the Head of State further explained.

Amid allegations by the opposition that he and his government are acting in bad faith, President Granger assured the nation, during the interview, that he and his government are acting in compliance with the Constitution and the ruling of the CCJ.

“I would not have met; I would not have set up a working group to meet with the opposition, six times in three weeks, unless I was acting in good faith, and unless I was interested in a favourable outcome for both sides, a win-win situation,” he said while emphasising that the allegations, are what they are – false, and misleading. The President said the people of Guyana could look forward to the appointment of a Chairman of the Elections Commission, a fully functional Elections Commission, and elections in the shortest period of time.

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