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Letter: President Granger needs to respect our Constitution

Much have been said about our protest in the National Assembly during the address of the President on Thursday, November 2.

It was our intention to make a bold statement to demonstrate our collective outrage at the callous way in which the Head of State and his government violate the rule of law, assault important democratic institutions, and breach the Constitution in the most egregious fashion.
Article 226(1) of the Constitution states: “In the exercise of its functions under the Constitution, a Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority”.

In May 2015, the then Junior Social Protection Minister Simona Broomes instructed the Secretary of the Public Service Commission, that “all interviews and meetings of the Commission are to cease forthwith until further as instructed by His Excellency, the President, David Arthur Granger’s notice”.
This was challenged in the High Court, and Justice Chang ruled that the Public Service Commission, a Commission established by the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, in the exercise of its functions shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority. The Chief Justice called it a violation of Article 226 of the Constitution of the Cooperative of Guyana, and ruled that it is unlawful, null, void and of no legal effect.

In a public statement released to the press on October 8, 2016, trade unionist Carvil Duncan yesterday said that he was asked by President David Granger in February of that year, to resign as Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and from other constitutional commissions. Duncan related that he was invited to meet with the President and the Minister of State, the Hon Joseph Harmon, and was asked to submit his resignation. Harmon, he said, offered him a suitable financial package for his exit. And during the course of the meeting, Duncan reported that the President said “no less than 3 times”, that he does not want any blood on his carpet. Having rejected their offer, the Government embarked upon a manifestly unlawful course of action. While certain criminal charges were pending in the Magistrate’s Court against Duncan, the Government decided to trigger a constitutional process to remove him from office. Without a hearing, President Granger set up a ‘kangaroo tribunal’ to remove the embattled trade unionist as chairman of the Public Service Commission. But by virtue of being chairman of the PSC, Carvil Duncan was
ex-officio, a member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the Police Service Commission, institutions created by the Constitution and endowed with the fundamental role and function of guarding against executive abuses.
As Chairman of the PSC, Carvil Duncan enjoyed all these constitutional protections.

And in June, 2016, the President again deliberately violated the Constitution when he instructed Minister of State Joe Harmon to issue a directive to the Police Service Commission (PSC) in his name, instructing the PSC to halt the police promotions process.
It is obvious that this President demonstrates absolute disrespect and disregard for the letter and spirit of the Constitution, and continues to contravene its provisions with impunity. This vulgar and authoritarian attempt by the President to trample upon the independence and functional autonomy of the Police Service Commission, a constitutional agency, was again challenged in the High Court.

The editorial in the Stabroek News on August 21, expressed grave concern for the country, as “a pattern of highly worrying behavior has emerged. It is clear that when it suits the President and the government to ignore constitutional precepts – in this case the vital insulating of service commissions – it is prepared to do so. Two and a half years into its term of office, this tendency is rife with jeopardies to constitutional rule and the rule of law. It also adds to the unpleasant legend of the PNC’s undemocratic rule of the 70s and 80s, the flying of colours of the party over the Guyana Court of Appeal and the entrenching of paramountcy of the party as enshrined in the Sophia Declaration.”

President Granger’s unilateral decision to appoint an 84-year old man with ties to the PNC as the new GECOM Chairman, is nothing more than shameful. He is determined to stay in power at all cost. He has disregarded his own criteria in selecting the 84-year old retired Justice James Patterson in violation of Article 161-2 of the Guyana Constitution. Earlier, in a letter to the Leader of the Opposition, President Granger insisted that the new GECOM Chairman must have “wide electoral knowledge and capable of handling electoral matters.” There is no evidence that Justice Patterson has any electoral knowledge or experience. Granger also insisted that the person to be selected as the new GECOM Chairman must “not be an activist in any form; gender, racial or religious nor should that person have any political affiliation or should not belong to any political party in any form, apparent or hidden.” The 84-year old Patterson was a pallbearer at Merriman’s Funeral Home at the funeral of former President Hugh Desmond Hoyte, where all the other pallbearers were hard core leaders, activists and supporters of the People’s National Congress -PNC. In addition, Justice Patterson is known to be a preacher of religion.

The President also said the person to be appointed as the GECOM Head, “should have a general character of honesty, integrity, faithfulness and diligence in the discharge of their duty as Chairman of GECOM.”
When asked why he decided to hand pick the 84-year-old Justice Patterson for this position, the President said it is because of his extensive experience as a former Chief Justice of Grenada.

But here is the problem… Patterson LIED on his résumé. He was never a Chief Justice of Grenada, and it took two weeks of hounding by journalists before he finally admitted that it was “a slip of the pen” that caused him to lie on his Curriculum Vitae (CV). Retired Justice Patterson should also now retire as the new GECOM Chairman.

The Guyana Chronicle editorial of November 6 said “Lies have dangerous national consequences”. I couldn’t agree more. Justice Patterson was not truthful, not transparent, and lacks the credibility to be fair and impartial in his capacity as the Chairman of GECOM. It is obvious that President Granger was determined to disregard the process of due diligence in his appointment of Patterson for the same reason he has failed to withdraw his appointment for lying on his CV. You see, Patterson is not only Black, but he also has ties to the PNC of which David Granger is the Leader. And with his inclination of being dishonest, Justice Patterson is exactly the person Granger needs to help him rig the 2020 general and regional elections to remain in power.

The People’s Progressive Party has an obligation to condemn, expose and embarrass the illegal and unconstitutional actions of this President before he turns into a full-blown dictator like his idol, the late Forbes Burnham.
I believe President Granger was looking for a confrontation with the Opposition by coming to Parliament so soon after his highly controversial decision to unilateral appoint retired Justice Patterson as the new GECOM Chairman. He wanted to ‘test the waters’ to determine the level of our “non-cooperation”. And now, he should realize just how serious we are. Dis time na like lang time.

This President does not respect our Constitution, he does not respect the people. He does not respect the Leader of the Opposition, he does not even respect his own word. President Granger issued a joint statement saying that he would work with the Leader of the Opposition collaboratively to appoint the GECOM Chairman. He mislead both the Leader of the Opposition and the nation.

The late Malcolm X, a courageous advocate for the rights of Black Americans once said, “I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he’s wrong, than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.”

I have the greatest of respect for the Office of the President, but this President will get none from me. David Granger is no angel, he is a budding dictator. He does not deserve our respect.

HARRY GILL, PPP/C MP

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