President Granger went beyond constitutional provisions to select GECOM Chair –  Harmon

DPI, Guyana, Sunday, October 29, 2017.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon said President David Granger did not act unilaterally or unconstitutionally when he selected retired Justice James Patterson to head the country’s Election Commission.

Minister Harmon, addressing a gathering of residents of Ann’s Grove/Clonbrook and surrounding communities, at the Clonbrook Primary School on Saturday said, “ The fact of the matter is, the constitution has provided a framework within which the president has acted.”

Minister of State Joseph Harmon, addressing the residents of Ann’s Grove/Clonbrook.

“In addition to that he has gone beyond what any former president has done to describe the characteristics or what he understands to be meant by fit and proper, but that seemed to  not  be enough for the gentlemen who running around the country shouting dictatorship,” Minister Harmon opined.

Detailing the process through which President Granger arrived at the selection of Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Minister Harmon said, “They are saying President Granger acted unilaterally, he acted undemocratically. Now how could you say that when you have had at least three consultations? I have said to you this is what the constitution requires. I have described the characteristics of fit and proper. I have taken into consideration a judgement of the High Court given by the Chief Justice and I have listed all of these things.”

According to Minister Harmon, the process began with a letter from Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira stating that the Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo had, in accordance with the constitution, selected a list of persons from whom the president must choose .The president after reviewing the list and acting in accordance with the constitution and the law and the moral decency which he has, felt it did not satisfied the requirement of the constitution.

Further, Minister Harmon said following the rejection of the first list, the Opposition Leader, then requested of the president his criteria for the person who is to be elected as chairman of GECOM. The president responded by pointing the Opposition Leader to the constitutional provisions. Among the characteristics identified were: the candidate should be a person qualified to be a judge of the High Court under article 129 of the Constitution and under section five of the High Court Act, chapter 302. Secondly that person should have been an attorney-at-law for a minimum of seven years according to section five of the High Court Act and in the absence of one and two above any other fit and proper person should be appointed according to article 161 (2) of the Constitution.

In addition, Minister Harmon said, “Mr. Jagdeo asked for the characteristics of the man or woman the President wants to be chairman of the Commission and for a clear definition of what is fit and proper. So, having consulted with several persons, not only here in Guyana but around the world with regard to best practices, the President came up with a list of criteria and gave them to Mr. Jagdeo in writing,”

According to the Minister of State these characteristics were, “firstly that  the person will discharge his functions without fear or favour, that he or she will not allow any person or organisation to influence him or her to compromise his or her neutrality. Secondly that the person will discharge his or her functions neutrally  between the two opposing parties as he or she would have done in court between two litigants, that the person will not be an activist in any form, gender,  racial, religious etc  and finally that the person should have a character of honesty,  integrity, faithfulness and diligence in the discharge of his or her duty as chairperson.”

The second list of candidates which was submitted in early May, was also rejected by President Granger. Minister Harmon explained, “Jagdeo went and came back with another list as if he were oblivious to the requirements.”

Meanwhile a High Court action was filed requesting certain declarations. Following the ruling of the Chief Justice,  Minister Harmon said Jagdeo, “armed with the constitutional requirements and the characteristics that the president pointed out came up with a third list as if he didn’t receive guidance and didn’t understand what the constitution required.” This third list was also rejected.

Further, the Minister of State said given that almost one year had elapsed since the resignation of Dr. Steve Surjbally from the post of GECOM chairman and with local government elections slated for 2018, President Granger was no longer prepared to delay the appointment of a chairman to the electoral body.

The president subsequently met with the Leader of the Opposition and outlined in writing and explanation the reasons why he found the list unacceptable. Also with consideration to the Chief Justice’s ruling on the matter, the president was not prepared to keep the nation’s business in suspense any longer.

Minister Harmon continued, “the president then said that ‘this is my position and I have a nominee for chairman of GECOM,’ and  handed him (the Opposition Leader) an envelope with the CV of Justice Patterson and the meeting came to an end shortly after.”

With several opposition aligned organisations  claiming the government intends to rig the elections, Minister Harmon said, the president has declared he will no longer  put the “business of this country on hold because one person doesn’t like it”.

Labelling the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), as sore losers, Minister Harmon said they orchestrated the situation which resulted in the need for a new elections commission chairman.

“They appointed people unto the commission that made his (Surujbally) life a misery every day. They hounded Surujubally out of office and after he left they started complaining that there is no chairman at the commission,” Harmon explained.

“I am saying now that the President acting in accordance with all of that and in accordance with what he believes is right for the people of this country and he is still going around talking that this man is a dictator,” the Minister of State said.

 

By: Kidackie Amsterdam

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