Justice Patterson is not ‘fit and proper’ – Christopher Ram
By Devina Samaroo
Political commentator Christopher Ram believes President David Granger is attempting to have a politically-controlled Elections Commission in a country plagued with a dark history of rigged elections.
His comments follow the President’s independent decision to appoint 84-year-old-year old retired Justice James Patterson, who Ram believes is not “fit and proper”, to serve as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Ram, also a chartered accountant, an attorney-at-law and one of the 18 nominees for the post, told News Room during an exclusive interview Friday that most of the nominees submitted by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo are exceedingly more qualified and competent than Justice Patterson, who, up to the time of his appointment, served as the legal advisor to the Attorney General Basil Williams, the President’s chief legal adviser.
“I find it absolutely unbelievable that you could reject 18 Guyanese who are serving their country in different capacities now. They all are not perfect, I am certainly imperfect but I am certainly not unfit or improper. In fact, under the constitution, I am clearly fit and proper but this is not about me,” he stated.
Ram stated that Justice Patterson is by no means a “celebrated jurist”.
“He has no track-record of excellent management and that position requires serious managerial ability. It requires stamina, you have to work very hard, you have to mediate between two highly partisan and contesting forces (the commissioners)”. He explained that this is why the head of the constitutional body needs to be bipartisan, noting that the appointment by the President solely does not guarantee this balance.
Ram argued too that Justice Patterson has been “cozying up” to the government and that this relationship is worrying.
“I am speaking as a matter of fact. He is the… dean of the five people who advise(s) the Attorney General, who in turn advises the President. This thing is going to have serious repercussions,” he warned, noting that such a relationship certainly does not qualify the chairman as fit and proper.
Ram further noted that majority of the nominees are outstanding Guyanese and questioned Granger’s basis for rejecting them.
“Joe Singh – one outstanding Guyanese in terms of contemporary persons; Joe Singh has few equals. You’ve got outstanding jurists and young lawyers – Kashir Khan, Teni Housty, Sanjeev Datadin – (and) Gerry Gouveia. You’ve got people. So what? Are people ought not to have any kind of political views? Do we want morons as citizens?” he stated.
DISREGARD, DISRESPECT AND CONTEMPT
The respected commentator said the President’s unilateral appointment in the circumstances indicates that the consultative process with Jagdeo was merely window-dressing and that Granger had all along planned on selecting his own person.
“It seemed to have been heading that way. I was never convinced that the President was serious about this process … there was always a fear that he had a hidden agenda and objective and I think that last night vindicated those fears,” he explained.
Ram posited that “President Granger has shown disregard to the Constitution of Guyana, disrespect to the Leader of the Opposition and contempt to the people of the country.”
He warned that this decision can lead to a serious exacerbation of the division in society.
“Our country has had a situation where there have been serious issues of elections and anyone who believes that they could run this country on the basis of a controlled elections commission is barking down the wrong road.”
Ram said: “It will lead to serious economic problems, social problems, our reputation and image and standing internationally. Why is President Granger willing to risk this for a short-sighted and seriously flawed decision?”
GUARDIAN OF THE CONSTITUTION
Acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire had ruled that the President must, in the furtherance of good governance and democracy, give reasons for rejecting each nominee as not “fit and proper.” However, Granger flatly refused to do so on Thursday night.
Ram said that Granger’s disregard of the Constitution is worrying.
“Does President Granger not realise that the court is the final interpreter and guardian of our constitution and it is clear that in terms of the Chief Justice’s decision that he ‘must’, the Chief Justice used the word must? Now I don’t know what else ‘must’ can mean,” he asserted.
“President Granger seems to think he is the arbiter and interpreter of the Constitution,” he stated.