Georgetown, Guyana – (October 19, 2017) President David Granger, this evening, swore in Justice (Retired) James Patterson as the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in keeping with Article 161 (2) of the Constitution of Guyana. The Head of State 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, which stated “the Proviso to Article 161 (2), which 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.”
The President after making every effort to ensure that the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo understood the requirements of Article 161 (2) of the Constitution, even providing him at his request with a list of criteria or characteristics that would make the listed persons acceptable, has resorted to appointing the eminently qualified 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),” the letter states.
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. 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 this evening. They had previously met on June 12, 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.”
Article 161 (2) of the Constitution of Guyana states that Article 161 (2) states that “…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, to be appointed by the President from a list of six persons, not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition after meaningful consultation with the non-governmental political parties represented in the National Assembly. 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 Constitution also outlines that the post of Chairmanship must be a full-time appointment and the holder must not engage in any form of employment
Justice Patterson was admitted to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple and called to the degree of the Utter Bar on November 24, 1964 before being admitted to the local bar in 1970 while on holiday. He joined the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in March 1972 before taking up the position of Chief Justice of Grenada in 1987.