Guyana’s Election Body Gets a New Chairman

FLASHBACK:
President David Granger presenting Justice Claudette Singh with her Commission of Appointment as Senior Counsel back in 2017.

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Monday July 29, 2019 – Justice Claudette Singh has been selected as the new Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission, (GECOM), succeeding retired Justice James Patterson, who stepped down from the position last month after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that his appointment was unconstitutional.

Justice Singh was selected from the list of nominees presented to President David Granger by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, during what had been termed the ‘hammering out’ process, instructed by the CCJ during its final consequential ruling.

According to a release from the Ministry of the Presidency, Granger met Jagdeo last Friday to continue meeting to select a final list of six nominees. The statement said the president received and reviewed the list.

“In a bid to bring the selection process to a speedy and favourable conclusion, the process of selection by the president was done swiftly. This is aimed at ensuring that the Elections Commission could resume its normal functions and conduct general and regional elections in the shortest possible time,” the statement said.

The Guyana Constitution states that the GECOM Chairman is to be appointed by the President from a list of six persons, not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition.

In the process leading up to Justice Patterson’s appointment, three lists were submitted for consideration by Jagdeo, but President Granger rejected them all because he did not think the nominees’ qualifications and experience conformed to the requirements outlined in the Constitution or that they met the criteria he had set out in a ‘Statement of Qualities of the Chairman of the GECOM’ submitted to the Leader of the Opposition.

The President had advised Jagdeo that he would select a chairman himself, which is provided for by the Constitution if the Leader of the Opposition fails to present a suitable nominee. But the CCJ said 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; the President should only find a nominee unacceptable for some good reason on objective grounds”. It was also found that the President could not, as a precondition to considering a nominee, include eligibility requirements that were additional, or different, from those stated in the Constitution.

It was on that basis that the CCJ ruled Patterson’s appointment was flawed.

His successor, Justice Singh, has over 40 years of experience in the legal field. She was called to the Bar in London in 1973 and admitted to the Bar in Guyana in 1976. She is among five Guyanese women to have been appointed Senior Counsel. The new GECOM chair has also served as the Deputy Solicitor General, as a Puisne Judge and a Justice of Appeal.

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