WERE THE CONSULTATIONS MEANINGFUL?
There are media reports circulating that the Leader of the Opposition is likely to propose Mr. Aubrey Norton to fill the position of commissioner of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
A vacancy on GECOM arose following the death of Mr. Robert Williams who was one of the three opposition nominated appointees on the elections body.
It should be made clear here that a person chosen by the opposition or by the ruling party to sit on GECOM does not represent his respective party but as independent commissioners. They are nominated by the opposition camp but are not representatives of the opposition while sitting as Commissioners.
If the media reports are true, then Mr. Aubrey Norton is being put out to political pasture. But far more serious is the damage done to the relationship between the Alliance for Change (AFC) and APNU.
The Leader of the Opposition was obligated to consult with the AFC in naming the replacement to fill the vacant position of Commissioner in GECOM. But while the law does not specify a benchmark or standards for consultations, there is one that is available and which is defined in the constitution of Guyana as meaningful consultation. At the minimum this is what is to be expected in naming the replacement for the late Robert Williams.
The mere fact that the Leader of the Opposition afforded the AFC an opportunity to propose someone does not however constitute meaningful consultation.
The Constitution of Guyana lays down three conditions for meaningful consultations: 1) the relevant person or persons must be identified. They must be then invited to consultations and in so doing be provided with notification as the purpose of the consultations.
2) they must be given a reasonable opportunity to express a considered opinion on the subject of the consultations; and.
3) A written record should be kept of the discussions.
These three conditions relate to the formalistic aspects of consultations. Where a choice of a single individual has to be made, and notwithstanding the absence of the requirement of agreement, consultations should also allow for the parties to the consultation providing explanations and justifications for their choices. This is the substantive element of meaningful consultations.
It should never be a case of one person saying “I propose so and so” and the other saying that “I favour this person.” There should be a discussion about the merits of each choice.
Whenever the choice of the leader of the opposition is announced, it will be for the Alliance for Change to announce whether it feels that the consultations in which it was engaged were held in the spirit of meaningful consultations and guided by the aforementioned principles, both formalistic and substantive.
That is, the AFC will have to state whether it was provided with reasons for either the acceptance or rejection of the AFC’s choice or the reason for any other person being chosen.
If as is being reported in the media, Mr. Aubrey Norton has been identified as opposition’s choice to fill the vacant position of Commissioner of GECOM, Mr. Norton must be congratulated but he must also know that he is effectively been put out to political pasture.
There was a major controversy after the last elections when Mr. Norton was not selected as a parliamentarian. This raised eyebrows amongst APNU supporters since many were of the view that he had done enough to earn a parliamentary seat.
If he is now being made a GECOM Commissioner, it means that he can no longer become a candidate for either the PNCR or APNU while sitting on GECOM.
While a commissioner does not represent the party that nominates him or her, he or she would be in an obvious conflict of interest if while as a commissioner, his or her name were to appear on a list of candidate contesting an election.
As such, for all intents and purposes, once Mr. Norton accepts the position of commissioner of GECOM he is effectively placing on hold the possibility of being a candidate for his party at the next elections.
Obviously the appointment does not neutralize his political activities but given this appointment it is hard to see him being asked to play a formal role within the leadership of either APNU or the PNCR. And since the position of commissioner of GECOM does not carry term limits, it means that Mr. Norton will have to decide whether and for how long he wishes to put on hold a more involved political role for his party. There are many who will interpret the appointment of Mr. Norton as a constructive banishment from APNU.
Regardless of how this is perceived, the AFC is likely to be aggrieved that its choice was not selected. It will feel shortchanged by APNU because ever since the Carter formula was introduced, the smaller opposition parties have always been allowed to have their choice as one of the opposition- nominated commissioners’ nominee.
The late Robert Williams was in fact recommended by The United Force (TUF). The AFC would have expected that its choice would have found favour with the leader of the opposition if only in maintaining the trend of the smaller parties’ choice being selected as the third commissioner from the three that are named by the leader of the opposition.