President wants meeting with Jagdeo on third GECOM list

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By Devina Samaroo

President David Granger says he is hopeful of meeting with Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo next week to discuss his decision on the latest nominees submitted for the appointment of a new chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

Though it has been five weeks since Jagdeo submitted his third list of candidates, the President said he was waiting on the written ruling of Chief Justice (ag), Roxanne George-Wiltshire on the interpretation of Article 161 (2) of the Constitution which outlines the process for the appointment.

“The Chief Justice has published an opinion and I have been studying that opinion and looking at the implications of that opinion and the decision I have to make,” the Head of State told reporters on the sidelines of an event at State House on Wednesday morning.

The President maintained that the Chief Justice’s ruling does not interfere with his authority under the Constitution of Guyana to appoint a person who he believes fits the criteria of “fit and proper.”

“Among everything she [Chief Justice] has written, she has not interfered with the President’s right guaranteed by the constitution to select a person who is fit and proper and I think that in that regard I will continue to do what the constitution calls upon me to do,” he explained.

Having studied the written judgment, President Granger said he will be arranging a meeting with the Opposition Leader with the aim of advancing the process.

“I look forward in days to come to having a meeting with Mr Jagdeo. I don’t know about Mr Jagdeo’s availability, (but) I hope next week, once he is available,” the President stated.

The third batch of nominees includes Major General Joseph Singh, Teni Housty, Sanjeev Datadin, Annette Arjoon-Martins, Onesi La Fleur, and Krishnadatt Persaud.

GECOM has been without a Chairman since November 2016 following the retirement of Dr Steve Surujbally.

Since the process to find a new chairperson commenced, there has been a number of differing interpretations of the constitution as the President and the Opposition Leader proceeded in a back and forth.

Eventually, private citizen Marcel Gaskin asked the High Court to pronounce on the misconstrued section of the Constitution in order to bring clarity on the matter.

The Chief Justice clarified that the nominees do not have to include persons from the judicial category, reasons should be given for each rejection of individuals, and that if only a few individuals on the list are deemed unacceptable, the President must appoint from those who are not unacceptable.

It has been argued that the President needs to explain on what grounds he rejected the first twelve nominees in order to give the Opposition Leader an indication of who, in the sense of qualities in persons, would be acceptable.

The Chief Justice, in her ruling, noted that the exercise of the President’s judgment to reject the list and giving reasons, therefore, could support the resort to the proviso which permits the President to act independently to appoint a person of the judicial category to the Chairman of GECOM.

However, the Chief Justice ruled that if the president finds the list unacceptable and gives reasons why each person is deemed unacceptable, then he may activate the proviso which states that the President shall appoint a judicial person of his choice if the Opposition Leader fails to submit nominations.

But the Chief Justice ruled that the proviso contemplates the submission of only one list. Given that three lists have already been submitted, Jagdeo had noted that the ruling would only have implications on future processes.

Jagdeo also expressed a disagreement with the Chief Justice’s ruling on the proviso and has indicated his intention to file an appeal. At his last press conference on September 27, Jagdeo said the parliamentary opposition will be speaking with their lawyers on the possibility of filing an appeal.

The applicant in the case had also expressed an interest in appealing the ruling.  The next Local Government Elections (LGE) is due in December 2018 and Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan had expressed optimism that the elections body will soon have Chairman so as to commence preparations needed for those elections.

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