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Letter: We have seen a breakaway from 25 years of established procedure and a breach of the Constitution

The letter from Communities Minister, Ronald Bulkan, who, interestingly enough, signed it, not as a government minister, but on behalf of the People’s National Congress Reform, warrants a response.
This letter is the latest from the PNC and groups (and individuals) linked to the PNC and the PNC-led Coalition government, which seeks to defend President David Granger’s action. What we have seen is a breakaway from 25 years of established procedure. What we have also seen is a breach of the Constitution. There is no doubt, despite the many attempts by these ‘defenders’ that the Constitution was breached.

Article 161 (2) states that: “The Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person 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.

The President has said that he relied on the proviso to Article 161 (2), but the proviso says he can only do so, if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list, as provided for in Article 161 (2).

Bulkan attempt his defense of President Granger’s action by saying that, “independently-thinking legal scholars (agreed that) the President’s action was correct in law, and is consistent with the Constitutional mandate and rightful expectation bestowed upon him by virtue of his office. Therefore, any assertion that President Granger acted outside the letter and spirit of the law has no merit.” Who are these “independently-thinking legal scholars” Minister Bulkan refers to? The recently matriculated retired Rear Admiral and Presidential Advisor, Gary Best? The Attorney General, Basil Williams, who has demonstrated his incompetence time and time again?

Editor, the fact is that it is only the Courts that have the authority and mandate to interpret the Constitution.
In the case of Mr. Marcel Gaskin versus the Attorney General, in relation to the GECOM Chairperson issue, the Chief Justice, Roxanne George, ruled that, “While the applicant (Gaskin) has not applied for a determination of this issue, it was raised by the Bar Association in its brief which was filed and served on all parties.…it does appear to me that failure to submit a list as provided for speaks to the provision of an acceptable list, as discussed earlier. If by not choosing any of the persons listed the President thereby find the list unacceptable, the proviso to Article 161 (2) would apply and the President should then go on to appoint a judge or former judge or person who would qualify for appointment as a judge in Guyana or the Commonwealth to the post of Chairman of GECOM. But all of this in in effect academic because more than one list has been sought and provide.”

The Chief Justice is the only independently-thinking legal scholar whose opinion matters in this case. The President cannot rely on the proviso to Article 161 (2) of the Constitution, when the Chief Justice said any discussion about the use of the proviso is rendered “academic” in light of the fact that three lists of GECOM nominees have been submitted to the President by the Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.

Minister Bulkan also repeats what has been said by the Attorney General, and Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, by saying that the President was forced to unilaterally appoint Reverend James Patterson as the GECOM Chairman. This cannot be accepted. It was the President who, according to the Department of Information, promised a collaborative way forward, if he rejected the third set of nominees. On June 12, 2017, President Granger promised that, “A high-level team would be assembled representing the President and the Leader of the Opposition which will begin to work immediately on exploring modalities to bring a resolution to this matter in the event that the list is rejected.” How then was the President’s hand forced?

Also, how can Guyanese accept Minister Bulkan’s reasoning that the President’s action “put an end to the shenanigans being perpetrated by Mr. Jagdeo, whose goal it was to have a Chair who would be biased in favour of the PPP.” First, the Opposition Leader held consultations with civil society to come up with the nominees. Second, it is President Granger’s nominee who is politically biased. Reverend Patterson was a pallbearer at the private funeral ceremony for the late PNC leader, Desmond Hoyte. Reverend Patterson was listed as part of the ‘Rally Around the PNC’ group. It is Reverend Patterson’s whose integrity is now being questioned after he claimed that he was the Chief Justice of Grenada in 1987 – something that no one seems to be able to confirm.

Minister Bulkan claims that that Local Government Elections are due by December 7, 2018 and a GECOM Chairman had to be appointed. If this was the case then there were qualified and competent professionals who were nominated. Why didn’t the President choose one of them? Will Guyanese ever know the reasons for President Granger’s rejection of the list submitted by the Opposition Leader? If Minister Bulkan wants to claim that the list submitted by the Opposition Leader was flawed, he should provide reasons to substantiate that claim.

Minister Bulkan goes on to “commend the many letters and other expressions of support for the courageous action” taken by President Granger. However, the fact is that other than the PNC and groups, as well as individuals, aligned to the PNC and the government, there has been widespread condemnation of the President’s unilateral appointment of Reverend Patterson as the GECOM Chairman.

There is only one acceptable point that Minister Bulkan makes. It is that, “We have come a long way from a colonial system of governance and accompanying mentality, we have much work to do to build and maintain our fledgling democracy.” For this reason, we cannot allow the President’s breach of the Constitution to go unchallenged. In this light, the court challenged mounted by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is welcomed by right-thinking Guyanese.
Nigel Dharamlall, PPP/C MP

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