The Pres­i­dent and the GE­COM Chair­man

Stabroek News - - LETTERS -

On June 2nd this year, af­ter re­ject­ing the sec­ond list of GE­COM nom­i­nees submitted by Op­po­si­tion Leader, Bhar­rat Jagdeo, Pres­i­dent David Granger had this to say about the way for­ward.

“I’m pre­pared to work with the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion for as long as it takes to have some­body se­lected who fits the cri­te­ria, sat­is­fies the Con­sti­tu­tion and is one that the peo­ple of Guyana could be happy with. I’m pre­pared to work with the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion for as long as it takes, but I’m not go­ing to give the peo­ple of Guyana the ap­point­ment of a per­son, who is not fit and proper in ac­cor­dance with the Con­sti­tu­tion or cri­te­ria, which have been laid out”.

That was then. How­ever, by Oc­to­ber 19 this year, with­out any hint to the pub­lic or to the Op­po­si­tion Leader that he had grown im­pa­tient and would em­bark upon a uni­lat­eral course, Pres­i­dent Granger re­jected a third list and ad­vised the Op­po­si­tion Leader that he was go­ing to ap­point re­tired Jus­tice James Pat­ter­son. In a mat­ter of hours, Jus­tice Pat­ter­son had been sworn in and the Pres­i­dent had uni­lat­er­ally ter­mi­nated an en­gage­ment with the Op­po­si­tion Leader that had lasted roughly 10 months. He had also uni­lat­er­ally ab­ro­gated a June 12, 2017 joint com­mit­ment with the Op­po­si­tion Leader for a bi­par­ti­san com­mit­tee to quickly set­tle on a chair­man were the third list to be re­jected. The Pres­i­dent had not even sig­nalled be­fore hand to Mr Jagdeo that he had erred in agree­ing to such a com­mit­tee.

The record would show that Pres­i­dent Granger did not keep his word to ex­haust con­sul­ta­tions with Mr Jagdeo. More­over, if there was a de­lay in the process of con­sid­er­ing the can­di­dates then a ma­jor por­tion of the blame has to be at­trib­uted to the Pres­i­dent. Con­sid­er­ing the need to sup­ply six names not un­ac­cept­able to the Pres­i­dent, the Op­po­si­tion Leader would have had to do sig­nif­i­cant can­vass­ing and ca­jol­ing to get prospec­tive nom­i­nees to agree to be con­sid­ered for what is an ar­du­ous and thank­less un­der­tak­ing. Once the names were submitted, the Pres­i­dent’s task was a far eas­ier one. With Guyana be­ing such a small so­ci­ety, the Pres­i­dent and his man­darins would have known within min­utes whether the nom­i­nee fit their bill. Yet, Pres­i­dent Granger took an in­or­di­nately long time with each list and at no point along the way did he sug­gest that time was of the essence and that if an agree­ment was not reached by a cer­tain part of the year then he would act uni­lat­er­ally.

Mr Jagdeo submitted his first list on De­cem­ber 21, 2016. Pres­i­dent Granger then took 17 days to re­ject the list on the spu­ri­ous ground that it did not con­tain the name of a judge, for­mer judge or some­one el­i­gi­ble to be a judge. He had been im­prop­erly ad­vised by coun­sel and had his re­pu­di­a­tion of the list been chal­lenged in court he may well have had to select one of the orig­i­nal six names among which there were per­sons wor­thy of the GE­COM Chair­man­ship.

The Op­po­si­tion Leader then ac­qui­esced to sub­mit­ting a sec­ond list and be­gan fur­ther con­sul­ta­tions with var­i­ous parts of civil so­ci­ety which was not manda­tory but was seen as a means of broad­en­ing the pool of po­ten­tial can­di­dates. A sec­ond list of GE­COM nom­i­nees was submitted to the Pres­i­dent on May 2, 2017. Again, the Pres­i­dent dragged out the process for a full month, 31 days to be pre­cise, though he would have quickly been able to eval­u­ate the well-known per­sons on the list. It was upon this re­jec­tion on June 2, 2017, that he de­clared he was pre­pared to work with Mr Jagdeo as long as pos­si­ble.

A third list was submitted by Mr Jagdeo on Au­gust 25th. It con­tained the name of Ma­jorGen­eral (Rtd) Joe Singh, a name that the Pres­i­dent should have found im­pos­si­ble to re­ject but yet he fi­nally did. It took Pres­i­dent Granger 55 days be­fore he could for­mally ad­vise the Op­po­si­tion Leader of the re­jec­tion of the third list and the parachut­ing of Jus­tice Pat­ter­son into the po­si­tion of GE­COM Chair­man. Yet on the night of the swear­ing in he said it was nec­es­sary to bring the process to a swift end so that the busi­ness of the coun­try could go for­ward. Who was wast­ing time? The Pres­i­dent is the one who would have to be judged harshly in this re­spect.

To make mat­ters worse, at the swear­ing in of Jus­tice Pat­ter­son at State House, Pres­i­dent Granger said that he ar­rived at the con­clu­sion that Mr Jagdeo had no in­ten­tion of sub­mit­ting the type of list that was re­quired.

“I re­al­ized at that stage that af­ter the sub­mis­sion of three lists that there was an in­ten­tion on the part of the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion to sub­mit a list that is not go­ing to be ac­cept­able”, the Pres­i­dent said.

Whereas in the po­lit­i­cal arena the peren­nial in­dul­gence in one-up­man­ship is recog­nised, the Pres­i­dent by his words went fur­ther and cast Mr Jagdeo in the mold of a leader who was du­plic­i­tous and schem­ing. That state­ment by the Pres­i­dent ef­fec­tively un­der­mined the prospect for se­ri­ous di­a­logue be­tween the two sides and calls into ques­tion the judge­ment of Mr Granger and whether his in­ten­tion is to cre­ate a po­lit­i­cally un­pro­duc­tive en­vi­ron­ment be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion PPP/C. It did im­me­di­ately lead to the dec­la­ra­tion of non-co-op­er­a­tion by the PPP/C with the gov­ern­ment. It is also likely that the other half of the coun­try that the Op­po­si­tion Leader rep­re­sents will con­strue from the Pres­i­dent’s re­marks that their in­put does not mat­ter a whit, fur­ther deep­en­ing the po­lit­i­cal di­vide.

Pres­i­dent Granger’s ac­tions would also have the ef­fect of roil­ing the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate here. In­vestors would think twice about short to medium term plans and con­fi­dence in the econ­omy and spend­ing could be hit.

It re­mains the case that the Pres­i­dent’s choice of 84-year-old Jus­tice Pat­ter­son is in­ex­pli­ca­ble when ranged against the names that were ten­dered to him by the Op­po­si­tion Leader. Fur­ther, one doesn’t ap­point some­one of such ad­vanced age to a post as gru­elling as GE­COM es­pe­cially if other can­di­dates are avail­able. Fi­nally, by the Pres­i­dent’s own cri­te­ria for GE­COM can­di­dates submitted to Mr Jagdeo af­ter the re­jec­tion of the first list, Jus­tice Pat­ter­son’s ap­point­ment breached sev­eral in­clud­ing the need to be well-ac­quainted with elec­toral sys­tems and the pro­scrip­tion against re­li­gious ac­tivism.

These ques­tions will now more than likely have to be fi­nally set­tled by the court. That in it­self is an ex­pec­ta­tion that can lead to more dis­ap­point­ment. Chief Jus­tice (ag) Ge­orge’s rul­ing on the ques­tions posed in an ac­tion by busi­ness­man Mar­cel Gaskin pro­vided am­ple sources of con­fu­sion. Why the judge in her judg­ment even re­ferred to the pro­viso in Ar­ti­cle 161(2) which ap­par­ently em­bold­ened the pres­i­dent’s uni­lat­eral ap­point­ment is un­fath­omable. The court now has an obli­ga­tion to ren­der a de­ci­sion that con­clu­sively set­tles this ques­tion of el­i­gi­bil­ity, com­po­si­tion of the list and the Pres­i­dent’s obli­ga­tions and to do so with dis­patch. The new rules that gov­ern the court and the ex­i­gency posed by the GE­COM mat­ter must gal­vanise it into ac­tion and ex­pe­di­tious case man­age­ment.

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