Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo is prepared to take the matter of the interpretation of
Article 161 of Guyana’s constitution before the Caribbean Court of Justice if no common ground can be met with President David Granger, concerning the composition of the list of six nominees from which the next chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission is to be chosen.
Jagdeo said that it appears that he and Granger have varying interpretations of the same Article and this is the reason for the confusion.
During a press conference yesterday at Freedom House, Georgetown, Jagdeo said that there is a lot of confusion as to whether the ‘fit and proper’ section of the Article should be followed.
The Article which states “ Subject to the provisions of paragraph (4), the chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or who has held office as a judge of 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 or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge, or any other ‘fit and proper’ person, to be appointed by the President from a list of six persons, not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition after meaningful consultation with the non-governmental political parties represented in the National Assembly.
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 or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge.”
Jagdeo then quoted the 1980 version of the Constitution which does not include the ‘fit and proper’ category from which persons could be chosen. However, this version of the section is not applicable any longer and Jagdeo believes Granger may be using it instead of current version.
The only category in the 1980 constitution is that of 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 or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge or persons who could be appointed as any such judge.
According to Jagdeo, the change made to the old constitution was to widen the pool from which persons could be chosen rather than limiting names to just judges.
Jagdeo said that his interpretation of the Article is similar to that of late President Hugh Desmond Hoyte.
Jagdeo said that Hoyte who was a Senior Counsel, while he was opposition leader submitted four lists, one in 1994, 1997, 2001 and 2002. He said that there are several people on those lists who were not judges and did not have the qualification to be judges except one, Doodnauth Singh SC who would have satisfied the requirement as a person qualified to be appointed as a judge.
The Opposition leader admitted that his list contains persons who are not judges or may not qualify to be judges but still have a right to be on the list. He maintained that he submitted the list based on his interpretation of the constitution.
“The list that I sent, that has these names on them. We believe that that list is in accordance with the constitution.” The names which were submitted by Jagdeo were Lawrence Latchmansingh, Rhyaan Shah, James Rose, Norman McLean, Ramesh Dookoo and Christopher Ram.
Jagdeo said that in the President’s letter to him, Granger said that the names do not ‘seem’ to conform to the constitution. Jagdeo said that Granger needs to explain to him how the names are not in keeping with the constitution.
According to Jagdeo, the six persons are all eminently qualified people who he believes can be good impartial chairpersons of GECOM.
It has been requested by the Opposition leader that Granger meets with him urgently to deal with the matter. He said that the President must understand that it is not his place to interpret the constitution but rather the court.
Jagdeo added, “If after pointing these arguments to him, he still held onto his original view, I would propose to him that we jointly approach the Caribbean Court of Justice and get an interpretation of this Article 161(2) of our constitution.”
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