By Leonard Gildarie
It was after 2pm on Friday when I received the call. Did I hear that Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh had been selected as the new chair for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)? No, I did not. I am still on vacation. I checked and sure enough, the statement from the Ministry of the Presidency was in my inbox.
My heart soared. The political analysts will have fun with this one, but at the end of the day, it was consensual.
Both President David Granger and Opposition Leader agreed that Justice Singh, the Police Legal Advisor, was ideal for the job.
The Ministry of the Presidency said that the President received and reviewed the list of nominees on Friday afternoon in an effort to bring the selection process to a speedy and favourable conclusion.
This was aimed at ensuring that the Elections Commission could resume its normal functions with the aim of conducting General and Regional Elections in the shortest possible time.
The statement said that the President, in that regard, “swiftly” made a selection from the list of nominees and approved Justice Singh. “Justice Singh satisfies the criteria for the appointment and also satisfies the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for a consensual appointment supported by both the President and the Leader of the Opposition.”
The Western diplomats were quick in their praises at this development with the US, Canada and the UK taking to Facebook and Twitter.
From insiders, the choice of Justice Singh, the first woman ever to be selected to head the all-important GECOM – which oversees elections in the country – was one that was suggested by the President. It seemed that Jagdeo was not immune to the idea and has reportedly met with the former Appeal Court judge after she agreed to be a nominee.
From what is seen, the former judge was the only woman on the list of six named that Jagdeo submitted to the president.
She came up against the likes of Justice B.S. Roy, Lawrence Lachmansingh, Attorney-at-Law Ronald Burch-Smith, Attorney-at-Law Kashir Khan, and Justice William Ramlall.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Justice Singh on a number of occasions. She is an alert and composed individual who appears not to be one easily rushed to judgment.
She is diplomatic and not easily bullied. I can say that with much certainty.
There are a couple of aspects of this choice of Justice Singh which should see a resounding applause for Granger and Jagdeo.
Justice Singh was appointed a senior counsel two years ago by President Granger, with more than 40 years serving the justice system under her belt.
In 2001, Justice Claudette Singh ruled that the 1997 elections which was won by Jagdeo’s party was vitiated, as it was unconstitutional for voter ID cards to be used.
However, the judge could not order the PPP/C to vacate office.
For the two leaders, therefore, to find consensus would be a huge advancement in the art of compromise.
Her role at GECOM will not be easy. She would be overseeing elections that will come at a time when Guyana is wobbling to deal with first oil and gas. The country has been heavily divided by the events after that December 21st no-confidence vote.
Justice Singh would be asked to make pronouncements on current ongoing house-to-house registration.
I had met Dr. Steve Surujbally during his tenure as chair of GECOM and his quick wit and ready caustic remarks had the ability to diffuse any situation.
Justice Singh’s long experience as a judge, overseeing a number of big cases, would indeed be an asset which will be pushed and tested to the limits. Her every statement will be scrutinized and commented on in the coming days and months.
But that is a story that is still developing.
The two leaders – President Granger and the Opposition Leader – have to pay close attention to how much of a good thing this agreement on a new chair will be on the morale of a country that has been beaten almost into submission in the last few months.
As a worker in the news world, it was brutal. The conversation was the same at weddings, funerals and other occasions – what are your thoughts.
Like I have been harping in recent times, there is no time to sit and rest. There is nothing to celebrate. We are heading into elections that will be hard-fought. We cannot lose sight of the bigger picture. While we are fighting on this front, the oil and gas sector and our deal that we are getting have to take top priority on our agenda.
One can wish that our leaders, just as how they found consensus on a new GECOM chair, can find a mechanism where they fight just as hard for a better deal and to ensure that the monitoring of our oil fields and the deals that will come, will attract the same enthusiasm.
We will continue to pay close attention to the political scene, but perhaps more importantly, how our leaders address the oil issue will also continue to make headlines.
It will remain the ultimate test of whether our leaders are fit and proper and willing to put all aside for the better of this country.
Perhaps, we need to look to Norway and think of what can be possible, if we have the will.
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