Commentary: The Guyana Elections Commission Fracas – By Rickford Burke


Commentary By Rickford Burke –Caribbean News

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              President David Granger        Justice James Patterson      Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

On October 19, 2017 Guyana’s President David Granger autonomously appointed 84 year-old retired Guyana Supreme Court Judge, James Patterson, Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission. The autonomous appointment was a departure from the traditional process and caused a fracas. The law requires the President to appoint a chairman from a list of nominees from the opposition Leader. The said law also empowers the President to supersede the list and independently appoint the Chairman if he deems the list to be unacceptable. This is exactly what the President did!   

BACKGROUND: Article 161 (2) decrees the President to appoint a Chairman from a list of six persons, not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. A proviso in Article 161 (2) directs the President to use his deliberate judgment to appoint a Judge or former Judge to be Chairman, “if the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for” by the constitution.

The Elections Commission administers national and local elections in Guyana. It comprises seven members; three from the government, and three from the parliamentary opposition. The Chairman, who has the casting vote, is a creature of the aforementioned bipartisan process, which both sides jockey to control. Thus, contentiousness has perennially defiled this process. Importantly, extant laws which govern this selection process derive from a 1996 modus vivendi, which was intended to foster engagement and consensus between the government and opposition, to import bipartisan confidence in the electoral process. The proviso was expressly incorporated into Article 161 (2) to supersede the process contemplated in the modus vivendi, in the absence of consensus as is the instant circumstance.

On November 30, 2016 Dr. Steve Surujbally resigned as Chairman, creating a vacancy. The President consequently caused Opposition Leader, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, to submit a list of names for consideration for appointment in accordance with Article 161 (2). Although the constitution mandates “a list;” meaning one list, President Granger allowed Mr. Jagdeo to submit three separate lists over a period of eight months.

CONTROVERSY: The President rejected all three lists as constitutionally “unacceptable.” Many believe that Mr. Jagdeo did not intend to nominate acceptable candidates. His brinkmanship was a strategy to limit the President’s selection to persons of a sympathetic political persuasion, rather than the ability to dispassionately and impartially execute the duties of the office and the law. The rejection of the lists triggered the proviso in Article 161 (2), which compels the president to make an autonomous appointment. Obviously, the constitution framers envisioned such exigency and enshrined the proviso as a contingency for continuity of governance at the Commission. Mr. Jagdeo knows this, and that the President acted in accordance with the law; yet he has threatened to make the country ungovernable.

ERRORS: Although Justice Patterson has an expansive knowledge of, and fidelity to, the rule of law and is fully qualified to be chairman, I believe that a younger person, who is similarly qualified, should have been appointed. The Granger administration’s appetence for abandoning qualified younger people in favor of the dinosaur class is very troubling, especially since young people propelled them to electoral victory in 2015.

Justice Patterson’s curriculum vitae (CV) misstated that he was Chief Justice (CJ) of Grenada. This is factually incorrect. While he performed those duties temporarily, he was never appointed CJ. He corrected the record post factum. This omission was infinitesimal and immaterial to his eligibility. Mr. Jagdeo used the error to sanctimoniously posit that the jurist lacked integrity. He launched an assault on Justice Patterson’s character and called for his resignation.

The Granger administration’s defense of the appointment and retort to Mr. Jagdeo have been muddled and nugatory. The government’s pathetic and ineffectual communications have paralyzed information interchange. This void has enabled Mr. Jagdeo’s echo chamber. He proclaimed the President a dictator who acted capriciously and unconstitutionally. This insidious lie is being repeated with impunity by his supporters and civil society stakeholders.

INTEGRITY: Mr. Jagdeo is attempting to use seditious demagoguery and congenital xenophobia to engender racial polarization and political instability. He has no standing to attack Justice Patterson’s integrity. He was President of Guyana for 12 years. He has a record that is as sordid as Jack the Ripper’s RAP sheet. He is the most soluble political target in Guyana. A majority of Guyanese believe that Mr. Jagdeo is a racist who governed Guyana as an autocratic ethnocracy.

Allegations of complicity with criminals, death squads and drug lords; extrajudicial killings; torture and pilferage of State funds engulfed his presidency. His cabinet included three ministers who are convicted criminals. Other ministers had no content for a resume. One of his ministers has been charged with stealing government funds and assets totaling one billion dollars. On March 27, 2017, Mr. Jagdeo himself was arrested in connection with a public corruption investigation. How dare he cast a stone, when integrity is a concept that is alien to him?

Justice Patterson’s appointment was lawful. He has more than fifty years’ experience in the law as a barrister, legal counsel, prosecutor and jurist. His character, impartiality and integrity are as uncompromised as he is uncompromisable. If Mr. Jagdeo believes that he has some juridicial right to appoint the Chairman, he must go to the courts and petition for that presumed right. But in threatening to take to the streets to make the country “ungovernable,” he must remember his treatment of thousands of Guyanese who fought him for their human rights and dignity. They were beaten, imprisoned, and shot and killed.

The work of the Elections Commission must go on. Let Mr. Jagdeo protest. It is his constitutional and democratic right!

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  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 11/15/2017 at 9:25 am

    Rickford Burke started out making ‘neutral’ arguments for Pres Granger’s unilateral appt of the GECOM chair. Then he immediately shifted to a partisan support for the appointment while engaging in ad hominen attacks on Mr Jagdeo.

    What concerns me is his claim to Jagdeo’s “congenital xenophobia”. Since it is highly unlikely he would know of anything of Mr. Jagdeo’s immediate ancestry it seems clear to me that he is ‘sticking his figure in the eyes’ of Jagdeo’s ancient ancestry and his ‘globalized relatives’, which would include all peoples of Indian descent.

    This type of thinking doesn’t bode well for Guyana’s future, especially in the context of the past PNC rule and how it came to power in the 60’s and the now the outright rejection of 18 qualified Guyanese and the “unilateral” appointment of GECOM head.

    Veda Nath Mohabir

  • Veda Nath Mohabir  On 11/15/2017 at 9:17 pm

    As one reads Rickford Burke’s article critically one cannot escape the conclusion he lacks integrity as a columnist, among others, joining the Freddie Kissoon club. Here are a few of his nuggets.

    ” A majority of Guyanese believe that Mr. Jagdeo is a racist who governed Guyana as an autocratic ethnocracy.”
    Where is this “majority” ?

    Then he says: “Justice Patterson’s appointment was lawful.”
    Isn’t the court yet to decide this?

    He writes about “allegations” against Jagdeo. But he then implies these allegations are proven when he writes:
    “How dare he [Jagdeo] cast a stone, when integrity is a concept that is alien to him?

    Burke’s LinkedIn profile states “Rickford Burke is an international law and public policy consultant and a Democratic political strategist,..”
    Could it be that Burke’s input caused Hillary Clinton to lose?

    Veda Nath Mohabir

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