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.
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.
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.
FIGHT FOR UNITY
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.