Jagdeo rejects nominees for Chancellor, CJ

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Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has rejected the nomination of Justice Kenneth Benjamin and Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards as the Chancellor and Chief Justice respectively.

According to a letter dispatched to the Head of State David Granger on February 7, 2018, the Opposition Leader informed that this decision was made after several weeks of due diligence.

“I have duly considered the two nominees for whom you seek my agreement for appointment as Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice, respectively, in accordance with Article 127 (1) of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. As promised, I have done the requisite due diligence. It is with deep regret that I inform you that I am unable to offer my agreement to the appointment of Mr. Justice Kenneth Andrew Charles Benjamin,as Chancellor of the Judiciary and Madam Justice Yonette Decina Cummings-Edwards O.R., as Chief Justice,” Jagdeo stated in his letter.

The Opposition Leader nonetheless expressed that he remains cognizant of the fundamental importance of securing substantive appointments to these two high constitutional offices.

“As a result, I am committed to continuous engagement with your Excellency until there is due compliance with Article 127 (1) of the Constitution,” the letter stated.

President Granger and Jagdeo initially met on January 3, 2018 to discuss the substantive appointment of persons to those positions.

At that meeting, Jagdeo indicated he needed some time to do due diligence of the nominees.

The two parties were scheduled to meet again on February 7, 2018 (today).

However, the Opposition Delegation was no show at the meeting today.

In a statement to the media, Jagdeo’s Office explained that they did not receive confirmation that the meeting was still on – as is usually the practice.

Jagdeo’s Office deemed as a “publicity stunt” the release of a photo captioned “No Show”. The photo, which was posted on the Ministry of the Presidency’s Facebook page, is of President Granger flanked by Attorney General Basil Williams and State Minister Joseph Harmon seated at a table; across were empty chairs where the opposition delegation was expected to be seated.

The photo released by the Ministry of the Presidency.

Jagdeo’s Office explained that after receiving no confirmation of the meeting, it dispatched three letters to the Head of State informing him of the Opposition Leader’s position on the nominees for Chancellor and Chief Justice as well as the nominees for the Teaching Services Commission and the Integrity Commission.

In his letter on the appointment of the Chancellor and Chief Justice, Jagdeo did not express reasons for his rejection of the nominees.

Justice Benjamin, the current Chief Justice of Belize, was nominated by President Granger to be appointed as the substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana while the acting Chancellor Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards was recommended to resume the role of the substantive Chief Justice.

Justice Benjamin was nominated for the post by a committee which was put together by the President and his Attorney General Basil Williams.

Should Justice Benjamin be appointed Chancellor and Justice Cummings-Edwards be appointed Chief Justice then the current acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire may be demoted to a judge.

Justice Benjamin came under scrutiny by the Belize Bar Association in September 2017, when the Bar passed a resolution calling on him to deliver delayed judgments for 32 cases that he has heard but on which he has not yet issued a ruling, a Belize online media outfit reported.

The Bar Association had also threatened to file for Justice Benjamin’s removal from office for misconduct.

Meanwhile, the substantive appointments of these positions cannot be made without the agreement of the opposition leader.

Article 127 of the Constitution says “The Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall each be appointed by the President, acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition.”

The President of the Caribbean Court of Justice Sir Dennis Byron previously expressed concerns that since former Chancellor Desiree Bernard demitted office in 2005, agreement has not been reached on a substantive appointment of a chancellor.

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