Granger misused constitutional proviso to unilaterally appoint GECOM Chairman – Ramotar

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Immediate past President Donald Ramotar has reprimanded his successor for misusing the proviso under Article 161 of the Guyana Constitution.

He said the proviso was inserted during the 1998-2001 constitutional reform process.

Ramotar, who made submissions to the Ralph Ramkarran-led constitutional reform committee on behalf of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), explained that the proviso to allow the President to unilaterally appoint a GECOM Chairman was only inserted after it was realised that the Opposition Leader held the power to create a constitutional crisis by deliberately refusing to submit a list of nominees for consideration.

“This section that President Granger used was never designed for such a purpose,” Ramotar told News Room during an interview at Freedom House on Wednesday.

“The discussion came up then (during the Constitutional Reform process) that the Leader of the Opposition will have a power in the establishment over the Elections Commission and that he can refuse to present a list and then we would not be able to establish an Elections Commission. It was then that sentence was put in, so the President can choose someone if the Leader of the Opposition did not submit (a list). That was the context,” Ramotar contended.

The proviso states “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.”

The Carter Formula, incorporated in the Constitution in 1992, outlined a process whereby the GECOM Chairman is consensually selected to ensure fairness and balance in the elections process. To ensure this equity, the process required the Opposition Leader to submit six nominees and the President would then choose from among those.

President David Granger is the first Head of State to have abandoned that process, rejecting three lists of nominees submitted by the Leader of the OppositionBharratJagdeo. He then proceeded with the unilateral appointment of 84 – year old Justice James Patterson. He has since received tremendous backlash for his decision and former president Ramotar has now added to the overwhelming clamour of concern.

“I have been warning the Guyanese people all the time that there has been a drift towards dictatorship in our country and … this act here is a very clear signal that this government wants to not hold elections in a free and fair way,” Ramotar said.

He argued that “no one can say that the lists presented to him were PPP people” as consultations were held with civil society in the selection of nominees.

Ramotar said the decision is not only unconstitutional but it is also anti-national.

“When the PNC was in government and moved towards dictatorship, we saw our country deteriorating from being the most developed country in the English-speaking Caribbean in 1964 to being one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere in 1992 and that was because of the governance of the country … so if we can excuse (the then President) Burnham and say maybe he didn’t know (about the consequences), these people know because we have the evidence,” Ramotar asserted.

“If this is the path they have chosen, then it is the most anti-national, anti-patriotic act by any President,” he stated.

Attorney General, Basil Williams has defended the President’s decision, noting that he acted within the parameters of the ruling of the Chief Justice (Acting) Roxane George-Wiltshire.

Williams quoted page 30 of her ruling in the Marcel Gaskin case which states that:“The submission of the list does not mean that the President is obliged to accept the list or the persons named in it.  If the President is of the view that the list is deficient either in totality or in the names that have been included, he can exercise his discretion to deem the entire list unacceptable.”

The Attorney General said, having considered the ruling, he deemed the third list submitted by Jagdeo as unacceptable.

But the Chief Justice also ruled that the President must give reasons for each rejection.

Justice George-Wilshire in page 29 of the ruling stated:“The Leader of the Opposition and others for that matter, may not agree with the reasons given, but they must be given so that the parameters for the submission of another list if required would be set.”

The President has adamantly refused to give reasons for rejecting 18 nominees.

Notably, Justice Patterson does not conform to the President’s own criteria as he has been a religious leader for years; the guidelines set out by Granger had guarded against persons engaged in religious advocacy.

When questioned by this, the President simply indicated that the criteria are not requirements of the Constitution.

The PPP has since filed legal action against the unilateral appointment, calling for it to be revoked. The matter is scheduled to be heard on November 16.

 

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