Justice James Patterson is new GECOM chair

Retired Justice James Patterson receives his instrument of appointment from President David Granger at his swearing-in as chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) at State House on Thursday (Adrian Narine photo)

Retired High Court Judge, Justice James Patterson, 84, was on Thursday evening appointed chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), not the first judge to hold that post.

President David Granger made the appointment following a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, earlier in the evening when the head-of-state informed the latter of his disapproval of a third list of nominees which was submitted to him.
At a simple ceremony at State House, Main Street, Georgetown, the President noted that he found the third list of nominees, which he received from the Opposition Leader on August 25, to be unacceptable within the meaning of the Constitution.
He said he also paid careful attention to the ruling of Chief Justice Roxanne George in the case Marcel Gaskin vs the Attorney General.

Newly-appointed Chairman of GECOM, Justice James Patterson, stands alongside President David Granger and Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, following the former’s appointment (Adrian Narine photo)

The President said that being desirous of fulfilling the requirements of the Constitution and given the need of appointing the chair of GECOM and in light of the failure of Jagdeo to present him with a list that is not unacceptable, he decided that it would be in the public interest to resort to the proviso in the Constitution under Article 161: 2 which permits him to act independently and appoint a person of the judicial category to be chairman of the elections body.

“That is the person who is presumptively fit and proper,” he said as he noted Justice Patterson’s appointment. He expressed confidence in the new chair.
He urged all Guyanese to support the Constitution of a fully-appointed commission in the undertaking of future elections.
The President spoke of Justice Patterson’s ability, noting his judicial experience, including as a former chief justice in the island of Grenada.
“I do believe he brings to the position years of experience, in addition to which we are looking for persons of integrity, impartiality and independence,” the President said of his nominee.

The President noted that he could not discuss his reasons for rejecting the third list of nominees, noting that on the whole it was unacceptable.
As regards Jagdeo’s pronouncements earlier at a press briefing on Thursday night when he said the Opposition will withdraw all forms of participation with the government, President Granger said that posture would not be in the best interest of the public.
He said Jagdeo would have to account to his supporters, noting that he will be judged by history.

“I cannot agree with him, I acted constitutionally and I think he must accept that decision, I have not broken the Constitution in any way,” the President said.

Justice (rt’d) James Patterson taking the oath of office before President David Granger on Thursday

The head-of-state noted too that he never approached Patterson prior to the reception of the third list, adding that he did not “drag on” the process, an accusation levelled against him by Jagdeo.
“I am not going to go down in the gutter, I did not come from that political culture,” the President said in response to Jagdeo.
Justice Patterson had been serving in an advisory capacity to Attorney General Basil Williams, and according to the President, the retired judge was not serving in a political capacity.
He said Justice Patterson is not known to belong to any political party or display partisanship.
The retired judge told reporters that the President does not think his age matters.

His advice to politicians is to fight for the unity of the population.
“I am apolitical, I have not been in politics, and I don’t think I will ever be, don’t have the stamina for that, politics,” the retired judge noted. He said that as a judge, one encounters more trying situations, as he spoke to the new post.
“I was never approached prior to tonight,” the new chairman of GECOM said.
Thursday night’s appointment comes after almost a year of meetings and back and forth discussions between the President and the Opposition Leader on the critical post.
Two lists were previously submitted to the President, but both were rejected.
The first list included business executive Ramesh Dookhoo, Lawrence Latchmansingh, Major General (Rtd) Norman McLean , accountant Christopher Ram, Professor James Rose and Rhyaan Shaw.

The second list included Retired Justices Claudette Singh and B.S. Roy, PPP Member of Parliament and GECOM Commissioner Bibi Shadick, Attorneys Timothy Jonas and Kashir Khan and environmentalist Annette Arjoon-Martins.
In March this year, the President had 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….”
Businessman Marcel Gaskin had however approached the High Court to interpret the article, which resulted in the Acting Chief Justice confirming that the President acting on his own deliberate judgment must determine whether a person is ‘fit and proper’.
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.

  • Raj Beekie

    Dang, at 84 I am planning to stay retired. Plant a few tomatoes, okra, bora, etc. and enjoy the good life.
    I wished Granger had selected someone from the list, but at the same time I wish this man well and he is up to the task fro free and fair elections.

    As far as, “Jagdeo’s pronouncements earlier at a press briefing on Thursday night when he said the Opposition will withdraw all forms of participation with the government…” I don’t see this as any different from what was happening in the past.

    The mud slinging has been happening from day 1.

  • Dr Nat Khublall

    President Granger has made one of the biggest blunders in unilaterally appointing Justice Patterson to be the chairman of GECOM. Granger refused to accept any of the 18 names submitted by the leader of the opposition, Mr Jagdeo. All the names submitted appear to be people of substance, many had held important positions in Guyana. It seems that the President had set his mind on a particular retired judge. Mr Granger was always mentioning judges as fit and proper persons, though according to the Constitution a person who is not or was not a judge could be appointed, as indeed mentioned in the recent judgment of the acting Chief Justice.
    Some time ago, the President, if I remember correctly, said that a person who was a pastor would be unsuitable. Also, certain eminent persons holding top positions in certain Boads were removed on account of their age. One such person was Justice Cecil Kennard. However, Justice Patterson who has been appointed to the position of Chairman to GECOM is 84 years old and is a pastor. Thus, the President has acted contrary to his own criteria.
    The executives of the PPP/C and many Guyanese at home and abroad are of the view that democracy is being eroded by the unilateral appointment of Justice Patterson. Some people are of the belief that the dark days of the PNC under Mr Burnham are returning, having regard to the removal of many top public servants in the last two years and events showing again “the paramountcy of the PNC”. It appears as if the coalition partner, the AFC, is in cahoots with President Granger and the top echelon of the PNC. I don’t think this augers well for the AFC in the next general elections in two years’ time. As a constituent part of the government the AFC could have demanded fair play in the appointment of a fit and proper person from one of the 18 in the three lists submitted by the leader of the opposition. In the final analysis, it is the President who has the constitutional right in making the appointment but such an appointment should have been done in accordance with the law. A failure of the President to listen to the AFC could theoretically bring down the government as was done during the last PPP/C government. However, this is academic at present since the AFC does not stand a chance in doing good at the next general elections. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the AFC will hold the fort in ensuring that their MPs and ministers will continue to enjoy the high salaries and benefits for the next two years.