Head of Guyana Elections Body Resigns after CCJ Rules Process in his Appointment was Flawed

Retired justice James Patterson has demitted office.

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Wednesday June 26, 2019 – The Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), retired justice James Patterson has resigned, a week after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that his appointment was unconstitutional.

The government revealed in a statement yesterday that Patterson submitted his resignation on Monday, the same day the CCJ met to determine the consequential orders to follow from its June 18 ruling.

The statement indicated that the decision by the GECOM head to demit office after serving for 20 months was in keeping with the CCJ ruling in a case brought by Zulfikar Mustafa who had challenged Patterson’s appointment.

In that judgment which was handed down on the same day the CCJ ruled that the no-confidence motion against the coalition government in December 2018 was validly passed, the court stated that the process through which Patterson was appointed by President David Granger was in breach of the Constitution.

The Constitution states that the 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. Three lists, with a total of 18 nominees for the post, were submitted for consideration by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo. President Granger rejected the names on all three lists 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.

However, the court did stress that nothing in its judgment was intended “in the slightest degree” to cast aspersions on Patterson’s competence and suitability for the position of GECOM Chairman; nor was there any suggestion that President Granger had not acted in good faith.

The CCJ, which is Guyana’s final court of appeal, had at the time of its ruling advised both sides to meet to discuss the way forward and present arguments on Monday on how the issue could be rectified. A similar suggestion was made regarding the way forward for elections to be held, as under the Constitution of Guyana, elections should be held within three months of a vote of no-confidence being passed against a government.

However, when the two sides reappeared in court on Monday, it was without having met. The CCJ expressed its disappointment on that issue.

“It beats me that the Leader of the Opposition and the President and their respective counsel had not met to discuss the issues that confront us,” CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders said as he stressed that the matters before the court were of the “highest constitutional significance”.

“Everyone says these are important issues but it seems as though the same degree of urgency and deliberation that are expected of the court, we don’t see them being reflected in the behaviour of the political directorate and that, I think, is unfortunate. This case puts the court in a very awkward position because we don’t want to make political decisions, but at the same time…we feel it is our remit to assist in seeing the rule of law observed in Guyana. But the observance of the rule of law also requires political actors to conform to the rule of law and to demonstrate a spirit of compromise, reasonableness that allows for the rule of law to take effect.”

Justice Saunders has requested written submissions from all parties by next Monday. He said the CCJ will seek to hand down a decision on those submissions on or before July 12, and he encouraged President Granger and Jagdeo to meet by then.

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