Georgetown, Guyana – (July 17, 2017) Chief Justice, Madame Roxanne George-Wiltshire, today, upheld the Government’s conviction that it is the President who must determine whether the list of nominees submitted by the Leader of the Opposition for the position of Chairmanship of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is acceptable. The Chief Justice also confirmed in her ruling that it is the President, acting in his own deliberate judgement, who must determine whether a person is ‘fit and proper’.
The ruling was made on a case brought against the Attorney General, Minister Basil Williams, by Mr. Marcel Gaskin, a private citizen, who had asked the High Court to provide an interpretation of the Constitution as it relates to the selection of a Chairman for GECOM. 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….”
Madame 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. The President has made consultation and dialogue a priority, meeting with the Opposition Leader, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo and other members of the Opposition as recent as June 12, 2017. They had previously met on March 08, 2017.
After the first list had been rejected on Constitutional grounds, the Head of State and Mr. Jagdeo engaged in a period of consultations, with legal representatives from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) meeting with the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Basil Williams to ensure that there was a clear understanding of the requirements as stated in the Constitution.
The Chief Justice further advised that it is the Head of State who has sole discretion on the determination of what is ‘fit and proper’ and as such, the President is not obligated to select a person from the six names on a list of which he has determined positively that the persons thereon are unacceptable as fit and proper persons for appointment.
Further, the Chief Justice stated in her ruling that the President must consider each person unless the President provided the Leader of the Opposition with guidelines of who is unacceptable. President Granger did provide the Leader of the Opposition with a list of criteria based on his interpretation of the Constitution, for a person to be qualified for the position of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission in a letter sent on March 16, 2017. The Leader of the Opposition did not object to those criteria and submitted a second list.
The Chief Justice concluded that the President did not have to wait for the submission of a new list. He, according to the Constitution, could have gone ahead and appointed a Chairman, having rejected the first list.
The Constitution explicitly states, vesting ultimate responsibility in the Head of State to ensure a properly qualified person fills the post, that “Provided that if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for, the President shall appoint a person who holds or 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.”
The Head of State has always made it clear that his only interest in the matter is that a name emerges out of the consultative process that matches the requirements of the Constitution and is acceptable to both the Government and the Opposition and, moreso, the people of Guyana.
“I am going to choose somebody, who is fit to be a judge and who can discharge the functions of Office of Chairman of the Elections Commission with impartiality, with integrity and with intelligence. Fit and proper means you have to possess those three qualities,” President Granger said, adding that “the Constitution is clear that once the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list of persons, who are not unacceptable, I will have to make a choice but I will choose someone who is acceptable to both sides and who the general public is satisfied with,” President Granger had stated.
The Head of State said that the Constitution is worded the way it is to ensure that all the nominees meet a standard of criteria that would allow them to function impartially in the role and this is why so much emphasis was placed on either a judge or someone, who is qualified to be a judge.