A president’s decision creates a hornets’ nest – By Adam Harris

A president’s decision creates a hornets’ nest

By Adam Harris  – October 21, 2017

President David Granger seems to be in the middle of some flak from a growing group of self-proclaimed guardians of the society. This time the criticisms are coming from his decision to appoint a chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission. He rejected three lists produced by Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, and appointed retired judge, Justice James Patterson.

There are some things that I could not help but notice. The first was the contention that President Granger is indecisive. He was said to be indecisive when he pondered over the lists. Then he made a decisive choice and is being pilloried for it.

The second has to do with the use of the Carter formula. There is nothing in the formula that says that the president must accept a name recommended by the opposition. It is true that from the time the formula was introduced the president has always selected a name from the list provided by the opposition.  

In each case the president, in his view, sought to select someone who in his opinion would favour him. This was the case with Rudy Collins, Doodnauth Singh, Major General Joe Singh and latterly, Dr Steve Surujbally. Indeed some were openly favourable of the president. Rudy Collins actually abdicated his responsibility to allow the then American Ambassador to take control of the elections.

Those elections saw the production of two sets of voters’ lists.

People found their names on one but failed to find their names on the other used by the polling agents. Many people were disenfranchised, but some of the voices being raised today remained silent. Others proclaimed the elections of 1992 free and fair.

Doodnauth Singh justified the delay in obtaining the results from the polling stations in the city by claiming that the person who was transporting them had probably gone running to the Olympics instead of to the GECOM headquarters. Those elections were eventually challenged in court and the results vitiated.

In the essence of democracy, Doodnauth Singh silently swore in Janet Jagan as president, then opted for a public display later. In the same vein, a marshal of court was assaulted when he attempted to serve a writ, and Doodnauth Singh proclaimed it good, when Mrs. Jagan tossed the writ over her shoulders. That was also democracy.

Those elections saw statements of polls that were substituted. While the originals were signed, those used by the commission were unsigned; the figures were changed, but again those elections were dubbed free and fair.

In 2015, GECOM took the decision to have the votes from the polling places counted by all the commissioners. They discovered that one of the commissioners had injected fake statements of poll. The People’s Progressive Party claimed that the elections were rigged after it lost.

This time around I am hearing that democracy is threatened because the new chairman was not selected from a list provided by the opposition. The obvious contention is that Justice James Patterson represents a threat to democracy. Given the composition of the commission, I cannot see how he could threaten democracy, but the self-proclaimed voices of democracy do think so.

Indeed, it has become fashionable to target the chairman of the Elections Commission. Dr Steve Surujbally was picketed because he supported the decision to refuse some major recounts of ballot boxes that were obviously tampered with. His decision was seen by the opposition as hurting democracy. And democracy is dictated by the now political opposition.

Looking at some of the democratic decisions taken by the PPP, I find many interesting things. For one, people were ousted from their jobs because they were perceived to be non-supporters. I can say so without challenge, because I was one.

When the PPP began to talk about witch hunt, I put forward myself when Dr Roger Luncheon hosted a press conference at Freedom House. He remarked that if after 23 years people could point to the wrongs of the PPP and seek to perpetuate those wrongs, then heaven help Guyana. I agreed with him.

Looking back at what passed for democracy, I could not help but note the treatment of Mark Benschop by the Jagdeo administration. He was charged with treason; a special magistrate was selected to preside over his preliminary inquiry. There were special prosecutors in the persons of Sanjeev Datadin and Anil Nandlall, who were paid handsomely.

Benschop was committed to stand trial in the High Court, but when his case was to be called by Justice Winston Moore, Anil Nandlall and Priya Manickchand moved to the court of appeal to challenge this decision, the only time in my memory that someone had moved to the courts to prevent a man from having his day in court. That was democracy.

The trial was held and eleven jurors found him not guilty. A PPP supporter who was employed by Courts at the time, was the dissenting vote, so Benschop went back to prison. He was to stay there for three more years in addition to the two he spent from the time of his arrest. That was democracy.

Jagdeo pardoned him following talks with Robert Corbin, the leader of the People’s National Congress at the time.
Like some of those who served as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, among them Major General Joe Singh, Justice Patterson has an unblemished character. So the criticism is his age. He is 84. Dr Cheddi Jagan was 79 when he died as President. So too was Janet Jagan when she demitted office as president. At no time did anyone consider their age.

I would believe that if someone is lucid and can perform, then that person should be given the chance to. I am old at 68, but none can question my ability to perform as a newspaper man. George Barclay is also old. He is 81, but no one feels that he cannot perform as a reporter.

Justice Patterson was appointed to head the commission of inquiry into the Camp Street riots of March 3, 2016. No one thought that he was too old when he was selected. In fact, I did not hear a peep from anyone. I suppose one year in his life makes a big difference.

The harsh reality is that the critics feel that Jagdeo had the God-given right to appoint the chairman of the elections commission. That didn’t happen, so like the little boy who picks up the cricket bat and ball and decides that no game shall be played because he dissented with a decision, Jagdeo is threatening to pick up his bat and ball.
Unfortunately, he cannot end the game.

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