New GECOM Chair yet to call meeting with commission
Despite the haste with which retired Justice James Patterson was unilaterally appointed to the post of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), not even one meeting has been called with the full commission to discuss matters of importance at the entity.According to GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj, this is a matter of concern for the commission, since there are matters pertaining to GECOM’s financial accountability which have to be discussed. This includes the recent disturbing findings made by the Auditor General’s office.“It’s one day short of a month since we had the announcement that there was a new chairman of GECOM, and since then we haven’t had a meeting. We’ve had no indication as to when a meeting will be called; nothing!” Gunraj said in an interview with this newspaper.He added that for the better part of the year, commissioners had no idea about the proper functioning of GECOM.“So my anxiety is as to whether we will have a meeting. We were hoping that the haste the President ascribed to the necessity for appointment of a chairman would have been met with the holding of the meeting,” Gunraj said.He noted that the commission did not deliberate on the budget proposal submitted to the Government. GECOM had requested .7 billion, but its proposal was slashed to .9 billion, some 0 million less than it had sought.“We have been reading in the news that a budget proposal has been assented in relation to GECOM. GECOM is a Schedule Three agency. We have not had any opportunity to make input or see that budget. And in the past, we have actually sat and approved that budget before it went to the National Assembly,” Gunraj disclosed.Retired Justice James PattersonPatterson, who was an advisor in the Legal Affairs Ministry, was sworn in just a few hours after President David Granger had met with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo briefly on October 19.According to the Head of State, his late-night decision to select a GECOM chairman was done in accordance with Article 161 of the Constitution for the appointment of a GECOM Chairman.Granger said he informed Jagdeo during their meeting that he found that the third list of nominees submitted on August 25, 2017 was unacceptable within the meaning of the Constitution, and that he had also paid careful attention to the ruling of the Chief Justice (Acting) Roxane George-Wiltshire.In justifying why he decided to hand-pick 84-year-old Justice Patterson for this position, the President has said that Patterson has had extensive experience as a former Chief Justice of Grenada.However, it has since come to light that Patterson never served as a substantive Chief Justice, but rather acted briefly in the position.The decision has not gone down well with the political opposition. During a subsequent press conference, Jagdeo announced that his party would be withdrawing its support from any form of ceremonial cooperation with Government, and would also mount a legal challenge to the appointment.A challenge to the appointment has already been filed in the High Court, and that case will be called for hearing in January 2018. That challenge seeks to revoke Patterson’s appointment.A number of bodies, including the Guyana Bar Association, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA), have come out in condemnation of the President’s decision.Criticism has also come from the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) and members of the diaspora.