Guyana Politics: GECOM’s chairman Justice (ret’d) James Patterson has resigned

Kaieteur News – 26 June 2019

Less than two years ago after being sworn in, Justice (ret’d) James Patterson has demitted office.
His decision to step down came after a ruling from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) last week which found that the process leading to his selection was flawed.

Photo: Demitted office: GECOM’s chairman, Justice (ret’d) James Patterson being sworn in back in October 2017.

Yesterday, the Ministry of the Presidency made it clear that the decision was in keeping with the court order.

It was disclosed that Justice Patterson resigned on Monday June 24, 2019.   Yesterday, (Tuesday June 25, 2019), President David Granger met the former Chairman.

In the statement after, the ministry said that President Granger thanked Justice Patterson for his service over the past 20 months.

Patterson’s resignation would have rendered that post vacant, the ministry said.
“The decision by the former GECOM Chair to demit office is in keeping with the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) that his appointment was “flawed” and thereby unconstitutional.”

Government said it is reiterating its acceptance of the CCJ ruling in the case of Zulfikar Mustafa and the Attorney General of Guyana and the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission.

Justice Patterson was appointed as GECOM Chair in October 2017.

He was picked after several rounds of mandatory consultations between the President and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo leading up to October 2017.

Under the laws the President has to consult with the Opposition Leader.

The first list was submitted on December 21, 2016. It contained the names of Ramesh Dookhoo, Lawrence Latchmansingh, Major General (ret’d) Norman McLean, Chris Ram, Dr. James Rose and Ryhaan Shah.

It was rejected as the names did not find favour.

On May 2, 2017, the second list was submitted by the Opposition Leader.

It included the names of Captain Gerry Gouveia, Kashir Khan, Justice (ret’d) William Ramlall, Justice (ret’d) BS Roy, Nadia Sagar, and Oneidge Waldron-Allicock.

The last list which was also rejected included Annette Arjoon-Martins, Attorney-at-law Sanjeev Datadin, Teni Housty, Onesi LaFleur, Krishnadat Persaud and Major General (ret’d) Joseph Singh.

The president later said that he wanted someone who was “fit and proper” in keeping with the laws.
In October 2017, Patterson was sworn in.

His tenure at GECOM was marred by walkouts of the commissioners who were aligned to the Opposition as well as a number of letters to the editors which brought a few chuckles for his writing style.

However, the Opposition, through Zulfikar Mustafa, its representative, went to court last year challenging the legality of his appointment.

Last week, the final court, the CCJ, determined that the unilateral appointment of Patterson was flawed.

Delivering a summary of the landmark rulings was the CCJ’s President Justice Adrian Saunders who, along with Justices Winston Anderson, Jacob Witt, David Hayton, and Maureen Ragnauth–Lee, heard marathon arguments in the consolidated appeals on May 09 and 10 at the court’s Trinidad-based headquarters. The judgments of the panel were in most cases concurring, unanimous and in majority.

Delivering the Court’s summary findings via Audio/Video link, CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders said that in making a determination, the Regional Appellate Court had to consider ‘the proper meaning’ of Article 161(2) of Guyana’s Constitution.”

The CCJ President reasoned that while the Court found the decision of President David Granger to unilaterally appoint Justice Patterson was justified on several basis, the reasons proffered by the Attorney General Basil Williams and his legal team, lacked merit.

The Judge noted that in an attempt to defend his decision, the President had alluded to the discretional powers in Article 161 (2) granted to him.

Saunders pointed out that specific reference had been made to the Presidential immunity under found in Article 182 (1) which empowered the President to act in his own deliberate judgment, when exercising such discretion.

The CCJ Judge said that after rejecting three lists of potential candidates for the position, the President decided that it would not serve the public interest to further delay the appointment of a Chairman.

The CCJ stressed that “an onus is placed on the President not to find a nominee unacceptable merely because the nominee is not a choice the President would have himself made”.

By a majority, the CCJ found that the President should only find a nominee unacceptable for some good reason on objective grounds.

“If a President were permitted capriciously or whimsically without proffering a good reason to reject eligible nominees, this would frustrate the proper working of the Constitution.

It defeats the amendment of Article 161 (2) and paves the way for unilateral appointments.”

The Court found too that once the Leader of the Opposition demonstrates a will to engage in good faith the prescribed process, the proviso rule in which Granger resorted is hardly an option.

“In view of the unfortunate process that was followed; in view of the imposition of criteria that were not sanctioned by the constitution and in view of the absence of cogent reasons for deeming unacceptable the candidates and lists provided, the Court is of the view that the process which was followed in appointing Justice Patterson is flawed.”

The Court emphasized, however, that nothing in its judgment was intended “in the slightest degree” to cast aspersions on Justice Patterson’s competence and suitability for the position of Chairman of GECOM. Nor was there any suggestion that President Granger had not acted in good faith.

The resignation of Patterson came as Guyana prepares for early elections as a result of a historic December 21 no-confidence vote which saw the government fall 33-32.

The legality of the vote and a number of other issues were taken right up to the CCJ.

GECOM has indicated to the CCJ that it is proceeding on house-to-house registration to sanitise a voters’ list which has thousands of incorrect entries.

With other orders from CCJ not expected until July 12, Patterson’s resignation now will mean that the President and the Opposition Leader have to meet to discuss new names now.

Those discussions will not likely include a date for elections as the CCJ still has to render a number of orders.



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