The Opposition has agreed to meet with Attorney General Basil Williams, to learn more about the
administration’s interpretation of the Constitution when it comes to the selection process for a chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Yesterday, a statement from the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, disclosed that his office has received a letter from President David Granger “which does not provide the clarifications that the President promised”.
The administration and the Opposition are at odds over the selection of new chairperson following the announced resignation of Dr. Steve Surujbally, effective November 30, 2016.
A list of six persons sent to President Granger last month has been rejected, with the Head of State making it clear that the names did not meet the requirements of the Constitution. The Opposition disagreed.
Jagdeo’s office explained yesterday that on January 5th, he received a letter from President Granger, informing him that the list of nominees which the Leader of the Opposition had submitted to the President for the appointment of a Chairman of GECOM was “unacceptable within the meaning of the Constitution”.
In that letter, the President requested “a new list of persons who are not unacceptable”.
“As a result, by letter dated 10th January, 2017, the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the President requesting certain clarifications on the President’s interpretation of Article 161(2) of the Constitution and a meeting to discuss the matter. This request became of even greater importance because of certain interpretations which the President placed upon Article 161(2) when he spoke to the media at a State House function.”
On January 11th, while speaking to the media again, the President indicated that the “legal clarifications”, which the Leader of the Opposition has requested will be provided.
“Instead, the President proposed that a meeting be held between Attorney General, Mr. Basil Williams and a person of the Leader of the Opposition’s choice “in order to avoid further misinterpretation or misunderstanding of this important constitutional matter,” the statement from the Opposition Leader said.
“We are disappointed that the clarifications that we requested have not been furnished. We are further disappointed that the President is unprepared to meet with the Leader of the Opposition on a matter of such crucial national importance. We had hoped that such a meeting would have exposed the President to a view that is different from that of the Attorney General, whom we presume, is advising the President on this matter.”
Jagdeo’s office said that nevertheless, in the best interest of the nation, the Leader of the Opposition will accede to the President’s request, “since we are committed to protecting the democratic process, which the Guyanese people so valiantly and tirelessly struggled to establish. It is our hope that this engagement will provide the requisite clarity and will move the process closer to an early resolution.”
Granger and the administration have been arguing that the Constitution is very clear on the matter of the appointment of a chairperson for GECOM.
The Head of State emphasised that regardless what obtained in the past, now that the responsibility has been vested in him as President of Guyana, the provisions of the Constitution will be followed.
Responding to questions on his acceptance of the nomination for the GECOM Chairmanship by the late President Hugh Desmond Hoyte in 2000, the President said that the Constitution explicitly states the requirements for the position. He noted that any breaches that may have occurred in the past must not be allowed to persist.
NO PRECEDENT HERE
”My understanding is that at all material times a member of the legal profession or several members of the legal profession were on the list, but my acceptance of the nomination does not necessarily mean that I must accept the six names that were submitted. So it doesn’t follow the law of what you would call the ‘non sequitur’ [a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement].
So the point is, even if the Constitution had been breached, or a nomination been made in breach of the Constitution, 10 or 20 years ago, there is no need to repeat it so that’s not a precedent. I am accepting now as President that the Constitutional provisions must be applied,” the Head of State said.
Though the list provided by the Opposition Leader contains the name of Christopher Ram, who was admitted to the Bar in 2009, this is the first time a Senior Counsel or person qualified to be a judge or a former or current judge has not been included on a list submitted by an Opposition Leader.
The Article first outlines clearly that “…the Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or who 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 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 partied represented in the National Assembly.”
The position is a critical issue for both the Government and the Opposition, especially after the latter’s loss at the 2015 general elections, following a 23-year continuous reign.
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