…in engagements with, diplomatic corps, civil society
…maintains gov’t acting within confines of constitution
…stresses need for free, fair, credible elections
PRESIDENT David Granger, on Thursday, met with members of the diplomatic corps; executives of the private sector and civil society and leaders within the religious community to personally explain Guyana’s current political, the legal actions taken by the government thus far and its intention to usher Guyana into fair, free and credible elections as early as possible.
The representatives met separately in their numbers at the Baridi Benab at State House on Thursday. There, the President committed to upholding the Constitution; respecting the National Assembly and the courts; ensuring the rule-of-law; safeguarding human and civil rights and preserving democracy.
He gave a detailed review of the legal processes which began with the challenging of the passage of the no-confidence motion in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018 and ended with the ruling of Guyana’s highest appellate court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
He also spoke to the case of the issue of dual citizenship which also spurred out of the no-confidence motion. With documents to prove the same provided to the representatives, the President stated that at each interval the government has acted in good faith and has complied with the rulings of the three courts involved.
Such intervals highlighted were: meeting the Leader of the Opposition in January 2019; meeting the Elections Commission in March 2019; accepting the resignation of four Cabinet ministers on April 25, 2019 who were dual citizens.
Regarding the latter, President Granger said, “It was very painful, but we obeyed the court.” He also highlighted that he has since made three broadcasts to the nation on the government’s acceptance of the CCJ’s ruling and Consequential Orders and has accepted the resignation of the former GECOM Chairman, Justice(ret’d) James Patterson.
The President has also met with the Leader of the Opposition on July 4 and 16 and established a joint government-opposition working group which has already met four times.
Meanwhile he has presented the government’s case to the Commonwealth Secretary General twice; to the CARICOM Chairman and to the diplomatic community earlier on Thursday. Still, amidst the acts of ‘good faith’ in keeping with the CCJ’s urgings, he laid the observation that there has been “strong resistance by the opposition to the Elections Commission’s work plan to correct the List of Electors by a process of its own choosing.”
He stated that free, fair and credible elections are essential to a democracy but can only be achieved if there is an independent and functional Elections Commission; an acceptable and credible Official List of Electors (OLE) and an efficient and competent secretariat to manage these elections.
“The credibility of elections is dependent in part on the integrity of the Official List of Electors. A corrupted or contaminated List can undermine the electoral process, encourage mischief and malpractice and result in elections being vitiated,” he stated.
SELECTION OF GECOM CHAIR
Meanwhile, on the matter of the selection of a new Chairman of the Elections Commission, he reminded that the CCJ has interpreted the provisions of the Constitution as ascribing a role for the President in identifying persons for consideration as Chair. “The President is not a passive bystander in the process,” he affirmed. “He is an active participant in ‘hammering out’ the list of persons not unacceptable to him.”
Added to this, President Granger reminded that the CCJ did not issue a date, deadlines or timelines of the holding of new elections.
He stated: “It is for the Elections Commission to advise the President on its readiness to conduct free, fair and credible elections. It would be reckless and irresponsible, on my part, to name a date for elections without the commission’s assurance and advice that it would be ready to conduct elections on such a date.”
Following his remarks, several members of the private sector and civil society spoke to the media about their take on the presentation.
“It is comforting to hear him accept the interim status; that was comforting,” President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Nicholas Boyer, stated. However, he said that there is “conflicting interpretation” of the CCJ’s Consequential Orders as Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire has stated that elections must be held by September 18, 2019 or a future date if Parliament grants an extension.
Nonetheless, Boyer said that he would be discussing the President’s address with the chamber’s committee members. Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) President, Coretta McDonald, stated that she was pleased with the President’s promise to continue the current engagements.
“We’re comforted by the fact that the President has said that he will continue to meet with the opposition leader until they can iron out the Chairmanship of GECOM,” she said.
However, she told the media that she came with the expectation of being able to question the President on matters still unclear to some GTUC members. Though she opted not to name these matters, McDonald is mulling seeking another forum with the President to address the same.
General Secretary of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU), Lincoln Lewis, told the media that while the two leaders and their representatives engage in talks, they should take the opportunity to discuss other pertinent matters of national interest such as oil and worker’s rights. “Election is only a means of acquiring political power, after that the issue is of governance…we thought that this would have been an ample opportunity for the President, the Leader of the Opposition and their respective teams to include in whatever they say, whatever they think about, the issues that borders governance,” he said.
He is pleased that the President made the decision to personally address civil society on the situation and the manner in which he did so. “The major element is the President taking the opportunity to come to talk about the issue; put his side in a very cogent way,” Lewis said.
Following the meeting, Director General at the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon, stated that the two sides are likely to meet again before the end of the week.
He expressed his optimism that they will, very soon, come to a consensus on a list of six eligible persons for the post of GECOM Chair from which the President will select one. “It [another meeting] will be before the end of this week; the President and the Leader of the Opposition will discuss this matter one-on-one and they will arrive at a situation,” he stated.
“They will meet and they will determine what needs to be done in the interest of Guyana. Speaking to both of them, both the Leader of the Opposition and the President, I get this sense of urgency for us to have this matter clarified in the interest of the people of this country. I think we will find common ground, I think there’s going to be a consensual list which is in keeping with the Constitution and the injunction given to us by the Caribbean Court of Justice.”