– says it’s the only way to determine whether unfit candidates were submittedBy Jarryl BryanThe Guyana Bar Association has become the latest body to condemn the unilateral appointment by President David Granger of a Chairman for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).In a statement on Saturday, the Bar Council of the Association expressed deep concern regarding the appointment of the elderly Justice (ret’d) James Patterson. Patterson, who did not feature on any of the lists Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo submitted, was sworn in on Thursday night after a brief meeting between Jagdeo and the President.Noting that no President of Guyana from either of the major parties has made a unilateral appointment of a GECOM Chairman in more than 25 years, it expressed fear that the appointment would lead to loss of public confidence in the electoral process.“The Bar Council expects that, in keeping with the ruling of Chief Justice George in the matter of Marcel Gaskin against the Attorney General, the President will provide reasons for the rejection of the 18 names submitted to him by the Leader of the Opposition as prospective candidates for appointment,” it also stated.“The Chief Justice ruled that reasons are required to be provided so that it is known why there is a rejection. Her Honour said that this is in order that the President may properly move to apply the proviso to Article 161(2) of the Constitution, which allows the President to appoint persons from the judicial category only.”According to the Association, the President’s power to make a unilateral appointment to the office is limited by the Constitution. And this power is only applicable when the Leader of the Opposition fails to submit a list as provided for by the Constitution.“It should be obvious therefore that Guyanese cannot satisfy themselves that there is an objective and lawful basis for the President’s unilateral appointment of Justice James Patterson to that office unless publicly stated reasons for the rejection of the 18 persons found by the President to be unfit to hold the office of Chairman of the Elections Commission are provided.”“Only if clear and detailed reasons are provided which show cause why each of the 18 rejected persons is unacceptable to the President for appointment to the office of Chairman of the Elections Commission would it be possible to establish that the Leader of the Opposition failed to submit a list as provided for by the Constitution,” the association added.The Association pointed out that the Chief Justice’s ruling stated that reasons are required can be considered as part of the laws of Guyana until it is challenged and set aside by a higher court. Thus, it urged that the Constitution be considered in light of that decision.Legal challengeOn the same day Patterson was sworn in, Jagdeo had vowed to oppose the appointment while hosting a press conference. In light of the former President’s utterances, it is only a matter of time before the appointment is challenged in the courts.According to the Bar Association, it expects that the reasons for rejecting 18 candidates prior to unilaterally appointing Patterson will be provided, in line with the Chief Justice’s ruling. This, the Association noted, is “to avoid the necessity of further litigation on its part.”“The Chief Justice also ruled that while the President is immune from suit, his decisions and actions are not. Thus, whether in the exercise of his discretion there has been compliance with the Constitution is justiciable,” the Association noted.AFCNor was the Alliance For Change (AFC) spared. The coalition partner had announced on Friday that it supported President David Granger’s decision to appoint Patterson. According to the party, the President’s move was one that “averted a looming constitutional crisis.”Noting that the AFC claimed each list fell short of the constitutional requirements for the post, the Bar Council expressed regrets that the AFC did not provide legal submissions that defined the precise legal reason each of the list fell short.“Unlike the Bar Council, the AFC did not seek to provide assistance to the Chief Justice by providing legal submissions in that regard so that the precise legal reason each of the lists fell short of what was required by the Constitution could be publicly known,” the association added.The listsThe first list, submitted in December of last year, had contained the following nominees – Governance and Conflict Resolution Specialist Lawrence Lachmansingh; Attorney and outspoken anti-corruption advocate, Christopher Ram; retired Major General Norman McLean; Business Executive Ramesh Dookhoo; businesswoman Rhyaan Shah; and History Professor James Rose.The second list, submitted in May 2017, read as follows: retired Justice of Appeal BS Roy; retired Justice William Ramlall; former Magistrate Oneidge Walrond-Allicock; Attorneys Kashir Khan and Nadia Sagar and Captain Gerald Gouveia.The third list of nominees contained former GECOM Chairman and Major General (rtd) Joseph Singh, Attorneys Teni Housty and SanjeevDatadin, vocal conservationist Annette Arjune-Martins, Onesi La Fleur and Krishnadatt Persaud.Businessman and engineer Marcel Gaskin had moved to the High Court in March of this year, to challenge the constitutionality of President Granger’s reasoning behind his rejection of the list of nominees.In July, Chief Justice Roxanne George, SC, overruled the President’s interpretation of the Constitution regarding the appointment of a Chairman for GECOM, finding that there is no particular preference for the appointment of persons within the Judiciary.In her determination, Justice George found that there was no valid argument to support the idea that the Chairman should be a Judge, former Judge or person eligible to be a Judge, and noted that persons from each category are equally eligible for the post.She had also found that Granger is required to give reasons for his rejections and that his failure to do so could be subject to judicial review. To date, Granger has not provided details on why the 18 nominees were unfit for the GECOM Chairmanship.