Court of Appeal ruling on GECOM Chairman is giant step backwards
October 22 2018
The Guyana Court of Appeal on Thursday, October 18, 2018, upheld the decision of the Chief Justice (ag) as to the legality of the President’s action in appointing Mr. James Patterson to Chair the Guyana Elections Commission.
As a person who presented the PPP’s position to the Constitutional Reform Commission, and who was involved in the numerous struggles for democracy, I am extremely disappointed by this ruling. It is, in my view, a giant step backwards. It is another incident pushing our country along the road to social and economic ruination and towards an authoritarian Government.
I was very much part of the coinage of Article 161 (2) and, therefore, I have personal knowledge of the reasons behind it, the way it evolved to its current expression and the way that it was interpreted and applied in the past. It was never ambiguous and never evoked any controversy over the last 25 years.
The Constitution was amended to remove the unilateral power of appointment from the President, to introduce the Leader of the Opposition into the equation, in order to achieve political consensus and to widen the pool of persons from which the Chairman is to be chosen. What is so difficult to understand? I am sure that every objective minded Guyanese knows this. In the 1999-2001 constitutional reform process, all the political parties unanimously agreed to constitutionalize this Carter-Price formula. In fact, it is the PNC that led the charge. Its major argument then was that it was important to cement the role of the Leader of the Opposition and to curtail the President’s power of appointment. Now that they are in Government, they are seeking to exclude the Leader of the Opposition and increase the power of the President.
Therein lies the ideological authoritarianism, which exists in the belly of the PNC.
As they did from 1968 to 1992, they now seem to be getting help from the Judiciary.
It is the very Judiciary that allowed itself to be so cowed that Burnham was able to place a party flag in the Court of Appeal compound and against the front wall of the court building, shamelessly contending to the world that the Judiciary was under the control of the PNC. This was allowed to take place by a complicit Judiciary. It is the Judiciary that refused to strike down laws that introduced overseas voting. It is overseas voting that was used to massively rig the first elections of independent Guyana in 1968.
It is the very Judiciary that threw out legal challenges to every election held under the PNC from the 1968 to 1985, when the world knows that each of those elections was massively rigged. It is now the Judiciary that is dilatory on the PPP’s challenge to the 2015 elections, when similar challenges to elections around the world filed after the PPP’s challenge have already been decided by the courts in those countries.
I will never accept that the Court of Appeal does not know the intent of Article 161 (2). From the press reports, they give the impression that they know it well. They upheld Nandlall’s submission and rejected those of Williams, yet they ruled in favour of Williams! The decision simply cannot be justified on rational grounds. When the Judiciary does not stand up courageously to protect our fundamental rights, the society descends into some level of anarchy and social and economic ruination. Cheddi Jagan was always clear on this point. He never failed to point out the link and interaction between the economic base and the superstructure in any society. They influence and interact with each other. The ruling may appear at first to be a victory for the regime but, in fact, it could very well turn out to be one of the biggest blows to all working people, to businesses, indeed, to our country.
Fortunately, the Guyana Court of Appeal is no longer our final court. We now have the Caribbean Court of Justice. This is an important case for that Court. I am looking forward to the decision of that Court, as I know that the matter is going there.