Opposition Challenges Appointment of New GECOM Chairman


GEORGETOWN, Guyana – The main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has filed a motion in the High Court seeking to reverse the appointment of retired Justice James Patterson as chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

In the motion filed on Monday, the PPP is alleging that President David Granger was biased in his selection and that he also violated the constitution by selecting the retired High Court judge to replace Dr. Steve Surujbally, who retired last November.

The PPP, through its executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha, wants the High Court to declare that the appointment of Patterson violated the constitution and is “accordingly unlawful, illegal, unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect”.

The opposition party is also claiming that Justice Patterson is not constitutionally qualified to be appointed GECOM chairman and wants the High Court to grant an order “rescinding, revoking, cancelling and setting aside the appointment”.

Last week Thursday, Patterson was sworn in as the new GECOM chairman ending months of bickering between President Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo over a replacement Surujbally.

Jagdeo had at one stage threatened legal action over the non-appointment of a GECOM chairman after President Granger had on two previous occasions declined to accept the names presented by the Opposition Leader as possible replacements.

A government statement last week Thursday night said that Granger had placed “reliance on the ruling of the Honourable Chief Justice, Madame Roxanne George-Wiltshire’s in the exercise of his decision to reject the third list dated August 25, 2017” indicating that Article 161 (2) of the Guyana Constitution “permits the President to act independently to appoint a person of the Judicial category to be the Chairman of GECOM, that is a person who is presumptively fit and proper”.

It said that Granger had written to Jagdeo even providing him at his request with a list of criteria or characteristics that would make the listed persons acceptable, before resorting to appoint Justice Patterson.

“I informed him that I found the third list of nominees submitted by the Leader of the Opposition to me dated August 25, 2017 was “unacceptable” within the meaning of the Constitution.

“I have also paid careful attention to the ruling of the Chief Justice in the case of Marcel Gaskin vs AG et al. Desirous of fulfilling the requirements of the Constitution and given the need to appoint a Chairman of GECOM and in light of the failure of the Leader of the Opposition to present a list that is not unacceptable I have decided that it would be in the public’s interest to resort to the proviso of article 161 (2),” Granger wrote.

Madame George-Wiltshire, in her ruling, had 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.

In its application, the PPP contends that Justice Patterson cannot be or appear to be politically impartial and independent in the discharge of the functions of his office on the grounds that he is a member of the advisory Committee on the Prerogative Mercy appointed by the President.

It said also that Justice Patterson is an advisor to the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs appointed by the President, the Attorney-General or someone in the President’s Government; was appointed by the President to head a Commission of Inquiry into a prison break at Georgetown, Guyana, during the month of July, 2017 and he was appointed by the President to be part of a panel to reviewing applications for the positions of Chief Justice and Chancellor of the Judiciary.

The opposition party is also contending that that the President has no power to unilaterally appoint a GECOM chairman once a list of six names is submitted to him by the Opposition Leader, and the President has failed to give any reason for deeming as unacceptable, 18 names of “outstanding Guyanese produced by a consultative process involving several important stakeholders, organizations and the Leader of the Opposition. – CMC