Since it became known that Dr. Steve Surujballi will be retiring shortly as Chairman of the Elections Commission, popularly known by the acronym, GECOM, there has been a flurry of activity in connection with the appointment of a new Chair. The Opposition has written to Minister Joe Harmon. The Leader of the Opposition announced that he would be engaging in wide consultations, which is a positive step since some of the bodies he mentioned have been critics of the PPP from time to time. Mr. Harmon indicated that the President has written the Leader of the Opposition and has triggering the process.
The process by which the Chair is appointed is provided for by the Constitution. In 1991 Dr. Cheddi Jagan, then Leader of the Opposition PPP, refused to accept the continuation in office of Chairman of GECOM, Sir Harry Bollers. President Carter persuaded President Hoyte to retire Chief Justice Bollers and asked Dr. Jagan for six names, which would be acceptable to President Hoyte, from whom he would choose one to be the new Chair. Among the persons searching for names were myself and Miles Fitzpatrick.
Many may remember that the Judicial Service Commission (“JSC”) recommended the appointment of prominent lawyer Miles Fitzpatrick as an acting Judge in the early 1970s. Mr. Fitzpatrick then turned up at State House on the appointed day to be sworn in by the then President, His Excellency Arthur Chung. The President failed to appear, in his own house. The swearing-in was aborted and Mr. Fitzpatrick was never appointed. The Independence Constitution and its 1980 substitute provided that the President “may appoint” judges who were recommended by the JSC.
In 2001 the authority of the JSC was strengthened, and the discretion of the President was removed, by the substitution of “shall” for “may.” Article 128(1) now provides that Judges other than the Chancellor and Chief Justice are appointed by the President “who shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.” Article 128(2) now provides that “the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and appoint a person to act in the office of Justice of Appeal or Puisne Judge, as the case may be.” These amendments were based on the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (“CRC”) in 2000.
The National Population and Housing Census was conducted in 2012. Published in 2014, it showed a decrease in the population from 751,223 in 2002 to 746,955 in 2012. The long awaited ethnic census in Compendium Two was released last week. It makes for interesting, but not surprising, reading.
The Indian population has declined from 326,277 or 43.4% in 2002 to 297,493 or 39.8% in 2012. The African population has declined from 227,062 or 30.2% in 2002 to 218,483 or 29.2% in 2012. The Amerindian population increased from 66,675 or 9.1% in 2002 to 78,492 or 10.5% in 2012. The Mixed population increased from 125,727 or 16.7% in 2002 to 148,532 or 19.9% in 2012.
The report of the Steering Committee on Constitutional Reform, appointed (SCCR) by the Government and headed by Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, was handed over to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo in April. It is now before Cabinet for a decision as to the way forward.
President Granger, responding to a question on the television programme, Public Interest said, as reported in SN on June 20: “I don’t want a boardroom constitutional reform. I want a public discussion. I want people in their communities to meet and express their views. I don’t want a group of people sitting in a room saying what must be done.” The President went on at length in this vein.
Once upon a time, during the colonial era, Guyana had a local government system that functioned. It emerged from the establishment of village democracy in estates purchased by freed slaves. It did not cover all of Guyana and its functions were limited. But legislation throughout the 20th century improved and expanded the local government and municipal systems. These became so well organized that there was a national body called the Guyana Association of Local Authorities, which had great influence in the early years of our modern political development.
Many might be tempted to attribute the destruction of Guyana’s local government system since 1970, or thereabouts, by the failure to hold no more than two elections since then, as a conspiracy between the main political parties. But it was not. Local governance was a victim of the perpetual struggle for dominance between the two main political parties. For both parties, but for different reasons and in different ways, local democracy became a humbug, and got in the way of the exercise of political dominance, so that after one try each, they discarded local government elections altogether.