The GECOM Chair­man de­ci­sion

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

Chief Jus­tice (act­ing) Rox­ane Ge­orge’s de­ci­sion on Fri­day up­hold­ing what is now the un­fet­tered dis­cre­tion by Pres­i­dent Granger in de­cid­ing who should be Chair­man of the Guyana Elec­tions Com­mis­sion is the most ret­ro­grade de­vel­op­ment in the arena of elec­toral laws and re­forms since 1991.

In the af­ter­math of decades of rigged elec­tions un­der PNC gov­er­nance, the Carter-Price for­mula for se­lect­ing the Chair­man of an ex­panded elec­tions com­mis­sion was care­fully crafted to en­sure that both the gov­ern­ing and op­po­si­tion con­stituen­cies would re­pose con­fi­dence in the can­di­date se­lected to run the elec­toral sys­tem. This for­mula was agreed to by both the PNC and the PPP and other op­po­si­tion par­ties which had an in­put at the time.

The process worked ef­fi­ciently for the se­lec­tion of four chair­men who served for nearly three decades in to­tal: Rudy Collins, Ed­ward Gar­nett Hop­kin­son, Dood­nauth Singh and Dr Steve Su­ru­jbally. From the sin­gle list sub­mit­ted on all four oc­ca­sions of names not un­ac­cept­able to the Pres­i­dent, a can­di­date was cho­sen by Pres­i­dents Hoyte, Cheddi Ja­gan and Jagdeo. While it is true that the Carter-Price for­mula had only been in­tended as a tran­si­tionary ar­range­ment for the 1992 elec­tions, the po­lit­i­cal grid­lock and the lack of will con­spired to pre­vent the de­politi­cis­ing of the process for the se­lec­tion of the Chair­man and a new method­ol­ogy.

Nonethe­less, the process worked smoothly and even if the can­di­date se­lected never al­ways en­joyed the con­fi­dence of both sides in the elec­toral sea­son, the Carter-Price for­mula de­liv­ered and im­por­tantly both the govern­ment and the op­po­si­tion found com­mon cause in it and it helped to nor­malise po­lit­i­cal con­duct and re­la­tions dur­ing this pe­riod.

That, of course, was un­til Pres­i­dent Granger was handed his first list of can­di­dates by Op­po­si­tion Leader Jagdeo in De­cem­ber of 2016. With per­fectly suit­able can­di­dates on that list of six names, Pres­i­dent Granger hemmed and hawed and even­tu­ally re­jected the en­tire list. It is a mat­ter of con­jec­ture as to what should have hap­pened at this point as re­ally only one list was con­tem­plated by the con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sions. Should the list have been amended by redac­tions and sub­sti­tu­tions? Or should Mr Jagdeo have gone straight to court for a rul­ing?

All of that is now aca­demic as Mr Jagdeo sub­mit­ted a se­cond list which was also re­jected. A third list was sub­mit­ted and Pres­i­dent Granger again found spu­ri­ous grounds to re­ject it where­upon he then hur­riedly made a uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of re­tired jus­tice James Pat­ter­son as chair­man of GECOM. Pres­i­dent Granger acted capri­ciously and ar­bi­trar­ily in dis­card­ing three lists of 18 names of prom­i­nent Guyanese of whom a num­ber would have been em­i­nently suited to the post of Chair­man of GECOM.

While he could have rea­son­ably ar­gued that none of three lists was per­fect and con­tained names that were not ac­cept­able, noth­ing pre­vented him from choos­ing a suit­able can­di­date. In his can­ning of the lists, Pres­i­dent Granger ripped up a tightly con­structed frame­work for en­gen­der­ing con­fi­dence in the elec­toral sys­tem be­tween the two main con­stituen­cies in the coun­try, a de­vel­op­ment that is in­salu­bri­ous given the coun­try’s toxic elec­toral his­tory. For the first time since 1991, the Chair­man of the all-im­por­tant elec­tions com­mis­sion has been cho­sen by the gov­ern­ing side with the op­po­si­tion be­ing com­pletely left out of hav­ing a say even though the Op­po­si­tion Leader fully par­tic­i­pated in the process and en­tered the names of 18 per­sons after broad con­sul­ta­tions. The uni­lat­eral se­lec­tion of the chair­man fur­ther sets back any hopes of im­me­di­ately im­proved re­la­tions be­tween the govern­ment and the op­po­si­tion. Fur­ther, the Pres­i­dent raised ques­tions about his own mo­tives when he ap­pointed Jus­tice Pat­ter­son to the post, a can­di­date who would not have or­di­nar­ily ap­peared to have been suited to the task.

In the over­turn­ing of the Carter-Price for­mula, some an­a­lysts have also dis­cerned a long­stand­ing an­tipa­thy within the hard­lin­ers of the PNC/PNCR to­wards the Hoyte elec­toral re­forms be­gin­ning in 1990 which led to the party los­ing of­fice un­til it was re­turned 23 later within a coali­tion fea­tur­ing the Al­liance for Change.

Jus­tice Ge­orge’s ex­e­ge­sis as de­liv­ered on Fri­day is un­bal­anced and should be tested at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity. The judge has found noth­ing within the pro­vi­sions of the con­sti­tu­tion on the ap­point­ment of a GECOM Chair­man that con­strains the con­duct of the Pres­i­dent. This is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary. The judge’s ac­cep­tance of Pres­i­dent Granger’s re­course to the pro­viso of Ar­ti­cle 161 (2) to en­able him make a uni­lat­eral ap­point­ment of Chair­man is un­con­vinc­ing. The Op­po­si­tion Leader had sup­plied three lists of nom­i­nees and was pre­pared to con­tinue dis­cus­sions on a can­di­date when the Pres­i­dent abruptly ter­mi­nated the process in an act of bad faith. The pro­viso to ar­ti­cle 161 (2) could only prop­erly be seen as ap­pli­ca­ble when no list has been sup­plied and Pres­i­dent has no other op­tion.

While his pre­de­ces­sors may have read­ily seen loop­holes to do what ex­actly was done in this case, they acted in a man­ner to en­sure na­tional co­he­sion and po­lit­i­cal amity. Pres­i­dent Granger has acted con­trary to this.

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