AG: CJ ruling vindicates President’s decision on GECOM chair

Attorney General, Basil Williams

…Gaskin signals intention to appeal

ATTORNEY General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams SC said the Chief Justice ruling on the Guyana Elections Commission chairmanship issue has upheld government’s conviction that it is the President who determines whether the list of nominees submitted by the Opposition Leader for the position of GECOM Chair is acceptable.
In a statement Monday night issued by the Ministry of the Presidency, Williams noted that Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire confirmed that the President acting on his own deliberate judgement must determine whether a person is ‘fit and proper’.
He pointed out that Article 161 (2) of the Constitution of Guyana states that “Subject to the provisions of paragraph (4), the Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or who 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, or any other fit and proper person….”

Justice George-Wiltshire, in her ruling, advised that there is no legal requirement for the President to state reasons for rejecting a list, though it is her belief that in the furtherance of democracy and good governance, he should since Article 161 (2) speaks to the need for dialogue and compromise.
“The President has made consultation and dialogue a priority, meeting with the Opposition Leader, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo and other members of the Opposition as recent as June 12, 2017. They had previously met on March 08, 2017,” the statement added.
Moreover, the government said after the first list had been rejected on Constitutional grounds, the Head of State and Mr. Jagdeo engaged in a period of consultations, with legal representatives from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) meeting with the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Basil Williams to ensure that there was a clear understanding of the requirements as stated in the Constitution.
The Chief Justice further advised that it is the Head-of-State who has sole discretion on the determination of what is ‘fit and proper’ and as such, the President is not obligated to select a person from the six names on a list of which he has determined positively that the persons thereon are unacceptable as fit and proper persons for appointment.
Further, the Chief Justice stated in her ruling that the President must consider each person unless the President provided the Leader of the Opposition with guidelines of who is unacceptable. President Granger did provide the Leader of the Opposition with a list of criteria based on his interpretation of the Constitution, for a person to be qualified for the position of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission in a letter sent on March 16, 2017. The Leader of the Opposition did not object to those criteria and submitted a second list.

“The Chief Justice concluded that the President did not have to wait for the submission of a new list. He, according to the Constitution, could have gone ahead and appointed a Chairman, having rejected the first list,” the statement added while stressing that the Constitution explicitly vests responsibility in the Head-of-State to ensure a properly qualified person fills the post. President Granger has always made it clear that his only interest in the matter is that a name emerges out of the consultative process that matches the requirements of the Constitution and is acceptable to both the Government and the Opposition and, moreso, the people of Guyana, the statement issued by the government said

“I am going to choose somebody who is fit to be a judge and who can discharge the functions of Office of Chairman of the Elections Commission with impartiality, with integrity and with intelligence. Fit and proper means you have to possess those three qualities,” President Granger said, adding that “the Constitution is clear that once the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list of persons who are not unacceptable, I will have to make a choice but I will choose someone who is acceptable to both sides and who the general public is satisfied with,” President Granger had stated.
The Head-of-State said that the Constitution is worded the way it is to ensure that all the nominees meet a standard of criteria that would allow them to function impartially in the role and this is why so much emphasis was placed on either a judge or someone who is qualified to be a judge.

Meanwhile, Marcel Gaskin, the Businessman who had approached the High Court to interpret Article 161 (2) of the Constitution of Guyana, also on Monday indicated that he will appeal the ruling of the Chief Justice. In a statement to the media, Gaskin said, “in my view, the Honourable Chief Justice went beyond what was asked by me of the court in addressing the proviso to Article 161 (2) which only applies if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list. This was never an issue for us since the Leader of the Opposition submitted not only one but two lists of persons for nomination as Chairman of GECOM.”
He argued that Justice George-Wiltshire by “extending beyond the requirement of my case,” made a “gross error” in ruling that the President is not obliged to select a person from the six names on the list unless he has determined positively that the persons thereon are unacceptable as fit and proper person for appointment. “This is a non sequitur and creates unnecessary misunderstanding and confusion,” said Gaskin who noted that “in the circumstances, and despite the Honourable Chief Justice’s otherwise helpful ruling, I have instructed my attorneys to immediately lodge a Notice of Appeal.”