President, opposition leader to meet on GECOM chair

Director-General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon, speaking with reporters at Castellani House. In the photo are representatives of the government and the opposition (Delano Williams photo)

– after negotiation ended in stalemate on Thursday

NEGOTIATIONS on the nominees for the appointment of a chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), at the level of the technical teams, came to a halt on Thursday, and a decision taken to have the process returned to the President and opposition leader. It is now expected that the two leaders will consider a list of 13 names of which six will be shortlisted for final submission.

The process, at the level of the technical teams, was expected to shortlist six nominees for the position. That list was expected to be submitted to the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, for a formal submission to President David Granger for his consideration in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana. But while the President’s team – Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan; Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence; and Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon – shortlisted the opposition leader’s list of nominees to five from a total of 11, the team appointed by the opposition leader refused to consider the eight names proposed by President Granger.

Instead, that team, which comprises Opposition Members of Parliament Gail Teixeira, Anil Nandlall and Bishop Juan Edghill, indicated that the President’s nominees would not be shortlisted but rather submitted to the opposition leader for his consideration. It was subsequently agreed that the five names shortlisted from the opposition leader’s list and the eight proposed by the President, a total of 13, would be submitted to the two leaders for them to “hammer out” the list of six nominees in accordance with the Constitution.

“At the end of it we agreed that at this stage, the plenipotentiaries, that is to say the representatives of the President and the leader of the opposition, have gotten to a point where they believe that our two principals should meet, that is the President and the leader of the opposition,” Harmon told reporters shortly after exiting the meeting at Castellani House on Thursday.

During the joint interview with the opposition-appointed negotiators, the director general said before arriving at that decision, the President’s team provided their counterparts with clarification on the term “shortlisted” as was requested ahead of the meeting. According to him, “shortlisted” means to be submitted for further consideration.

Additionally, the President’s representatives shortlisted a fifth name from two that were under “active consideration” when the teams met on Tuesday. It therefore means that from a list of 11 submitted by the opposition leader, six names were rejected with reason while five were shortlisted.

“We felt that at this point in the discussion, that we reached a stage where… it was the right time to indicate to the leader of the opposition and the President that they should meet each other to review those names – the five shortlisted and the eight that the President submitted and if they so wish, they can add additional names until they reach consensus on the six names to be submitted by the leader of the opposition,” Teixeira told reporters.

She added, “We felt that at this stage it was not possible to go further in the discussions at this level, and therefore, it would be appropriate that we hand over to the leader of the opposition and the President to meet directly with one another, one-on-one, as they wish.”
According to Teixeira, for the opposition, it was difficult to proceed with negotiations not having a clear understanding of the term “shortlisted”. “The definition of shortlisted is problematic for us, because we still want to know and we hope today that we would have learnt of which of the five shortlisted were not unacceptable to the President,” she explained.

Teixeira expressed the hope that President Granger and the opposition leader can meet today to continue the process of consultation to have at a consensual position on the six nominees for the position.

Interjecting, Nandlall said the President’s team should have clearly stated whether the five names shortlisted are acceptable to the President. He said while both teams assiduously worked to arrive at a consensus before today July 12, 2019 when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will make a series of consequential orders following its validation of the no-confidence motion against government, the opposition opted to “abort” the process because it was not yielding the required outcome.

The director-general, while noting that the approach of the President’s team is fundamentally different from that of the opposition, said progress has been made though not entirely satisfactory.

“In our view, shortlisting is a process of negotiation, and this is what ‘hammering out’ means. [It means] that you move from 11 to five and then you can get to a further state. And therefore to say there is nothing more that we can do, is really not a true representation of what the process was meant to be,” he said.

The director-general added, “We believe the engagement is still active, and we do not believe that it cannot bear fruit, we believe that it is still active, that even if it goes to the President and the leader of the opposition and they say look, let us revert to the team to get certain things clarified, then that can be done.”

He reiterated that while progress was made, the teams could have made greater progress with respect to “hammering out” the list of nominees.

Minister Ramjattan expressed his disappointment that the opposition leader- appointed team did not keep their end of the agreement. He explained that after Tuesday’s meeting, the opposition committed to supplying additional names for consideration by the two sides. Additionally, he said it was the understanding of both teams, that the President’s proposal would have been considered.

“We hammered out and reached five names shortlisted from their 11. We were supposed to get some additional names from them and they did not bring it so we then said, please let’s get on with the eight names, they did not want to even narrow down those because of whatever reasoning they had within their minds,” Ramjattan explained.

Nonetheless, the director-general said Guyana could still report to the court that the two sides initiated the process of consultation with the expectation of arriving at a consensus on the list of six nominees for the nomination and appointment of a chairman of GECOM.
“We believe that this process is in keeping with the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, it is in keeping with the exhortation of the Caribbean Court of Justice, and we believe that this process is required to produce a consensual approach to find a list of six names that the President will not find unacceptable. We believe that this is an important process and we are committed to it and we are committed to continued engagement with the leader of the opposition and his team,” Harmon told reporters.

After the process of appointing Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson in October 2017 was deemed flawed by the Caribbean Court of Justice on July 18, 2019, the court advised that the President and the leader of the opposition consult on the nominees before a formal submission is made to the President for consideration. The two leaders met on July 4, 2019 and had agreed to have their representatives “hammer out” nominees proposed by both sides before a formal list is submitted.