The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has ruled in two of the most important constitutional cases that have engaged its attention in its ten-year history. The cases from Guyana have their origins in Guyana’s troubled political history and struggle for ethno-political dominance. In the first case the CCJ decided that the appointment by President Granger of the Chair of the Elections Commission on October 19, 2017, violated the Constitution. In the second case, it decided that the no confidence motion passed in the National Assembly on December 21, 2018, in a 33 to 32 vote, was lawful and valid.
President Granger declared that the Government accepted the decision but insisted that the appointment of the Chair of GECOM was not flawed, and if it was, the CCJ must let him know what the flaw is. The CCJ had already noted that President did not reveal what were the flaws in the 18 names presented to him by the Leader of the Opposition for appointment as Chair of the Elections Commission. In any event, courts do not respond to political interrogation, and it is the job of the Attorney General to advise His Excellency.
The President’s undertaking to abide by the CCJ’s decision, even though he disagrees with it, is premised on house-to-house registration which will not end until November. Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo demanded elections in three months. Finance Minister Winston Jordan was more direct: “CCJ or no CCJ, they can’t tell us that we must tinker with that list to call elections…..From today, war break……no registration, no election.” Minister Dawn Hastings-Williams said that “the CCJ cannot rule.”
Minister Jordan, whose job it is to keep an account of the State’s money, also told his audience that he last went to Bartica in 1978, “thirty years ago!” The entire six-month charade of arguing that 33 should have been 34 has obviously affected Minister Jordan’s ability to calculate, mistaking his trip to Bartica 41 years ago for 30 years ago! It is hoped that his counting skills recover in time to hand over the nation’s till with every cent properly accounted for to his successor, if another is appointed. At least Minister Jordan has a plan flowing from the CCJ’s decision – war! The Chair of the Election Commission whose appointment as now been terminated, and who has accused others of having no “gonads,” said that he doesn’t know what to do.
The responses from the President and the Leader of the Opposition clearly demonstrate that there will be no agreement on the consequential orders. The intractable struggle for ethno-political dominance ensures that no political negotiations in Guyana would ever succeed. They never have. The CCJ will therefore have to make the consequential orders with two overriding themes – a new Chair of the Elections Commission must be appointed immediately and elections, due since March 21, must be held without delay.
In connection with the Chair of the Elections Commission, the Court will order that the current Chair’s appointment was unlawful and that a new Chair be appointed forthwith. Hopefully, they will order a time frame to the procedures already outlined in the decision.
As regards the no confidence motion, the Court will hopefully enforce article 106 of the Constitution and order that the Cabinet resign and that the National Assembly stand dissolved from a specific date. The dissolution of the National Assembly will be almost immediate. It was due since December 21. Elections, due since March 21, would have to be held in three months. This means that house to house registration will be impossible.
The issue was raised in the CCJ, which may feel inclined to respond. The Court may point out that Regulation 26 of the National Registration Regulations makes provision for the list to be corrected during the claims and objections period. Persons who are no longer alive and persons who have left Guyana and have not returned can be removed. Caution may be necessary in the application of this provision, however, because regulation 4 allows for the registration of persons not resident in Guyana.
There is absolutely no evidence that the list is ”bloated” by 200,000 names or that 18 year olds are not registered as alleged by the Government. Not a single complaint was made of the list for the local government elections a few months ago. And there is great doubt as to whether house to house registration is lawful, as being challenged in a case being argued by Anil Nandlall.
The Court may also note that subject to a negative resolution of the National Assembly the Elections Commission has power under section 19 of the National Registration Act to make regulations in a wide variety of circumstances which include an extension of time, or generally, for the better carrying out of the Act. Under this provision the Elections Commission can extend the life of the list which expired on April 30, 2019, in the few days before the National Assembly’s dissolution. Hopefully, the Court will set out and explain all of these provisions in justification of its decision. The CCJ will not be moved or influenced by political noise and war cries.