When Justice Claudette Singh was sworn in, she reminded us that when she was on the bench she was dubbed “The Iron Lady.” The newly appointed Chair of Gecom obviously intended to convey to the public that she was a decisive person, who tolerated neither nonsense nor delaying tactics. It was a clear indication that she intended to sweep away the cobwebs of obfuscation, chop a path through the forest of gridlock using “the law and nothing else”- her words. Now is the time. Gecom, over which Justice Singh has a decisive, one vote authority, must not be allowed to dance to the tune of delay, which everything that has happened since December 21 is about. There is probably no democratic country in the world in which a no confidence vote was passed against the Government that has failed to hold elections after eight months. And our argument in Guyana is on the list of electors.
In countries with a Westminster constitution as a significant characteristic, as in Guyana, where the executive sits in the Parliament, there is a long-standing convention that when a no confidence motion is passed against the Government, elections are promptly held. In 2001 the Parliament accepted the recommendation of the Constitution Reform Commission to include article 106 in the Constitution to provide for elections in three months if a no confidence motion is passed. The Parliament must have taken into consideration that if there is no constitutional provision and a no confidence motion is passed, the Government might ignore it. The Parliament also provided for the resignation of the Cabinet. The obvious reason was to institutionalise the caretaker status of the Government by confining the Government to largely administrative functions until the elections are held. In the absence of the Cabinet no major decisions could be taken.
What the Parliament sought to prevent has in fact occurred. A no confidence motion was passed on December 21, no elections have been held in the three months and the Cabinet has not resigned. The timid, indecisive and ineffectual decision-making of the CCJ has brought elections no closer, has left the Guyanese people defenceless in the face of an egregious assault on their constitutional rights and has left open its decision to more than one interpretation. The Caribbean Court of Justice has failed Guyana.
Resort has been had to the shibboleth of Gecom’s readiness. This has been elevated to a constitutional principle. When Counsel for Gecom told the CCJ that Gecom cannot be ready until December 25 for elections, the President of the Court waved the Constitution of Guyana, indicating that it was at odds with what Counsel was advocating. The CCJ’s intent to protect constitutional propriety is not in doubt. But its reliance on the integrity of third world politicians to do what is right was deeply short-sighted and mistaken in the absence of coercive remedies. The decision’s failure to bring forth elections will leave a permanent scar on Guyana’s polity.
Only one person remains standing. And that is our own Iron Lady. Justice Claudette Singh has been given the wherewithal to move forward. If she expects the six Commissioners of Gecom to arrive at a consensus, she is wasting valuable time. Several matters were considered by the Hon. Chief Justice, Madame Roxane George, in the case brought by Christopher Ram. The important conclusion of Gecom is in relation to the house to house registration. The Chief Justice ordered that the house to house registration is lawful but that “the removal of the names of persons who are already on the list of registrants and who are not, or have not been, or are not registered in the current house to house registration exercise with a consequence of non-inclusion in the list of electors, would be unconstitutional, unless or disqualified pursuant to article 159(2) with the safeguards for removal of the names of persons pursuant to the National Registration Act, Chapter 19:08 to be strictly complied with.”
The Chair of Gecom, in the face of this clear decision, has no cause for delay and no reason to await, week after painful week, a consensus among the Commissioners which will never occur.
The Chair of Gecom should not allow Gecom, under her chairpersonship, to succumb to the argument that it must await the outcome of the appeal filed by the Attorney General against the decision of the Chief justice in the Christopher Ram case. In the previous round of litigation, the Government ought to have implemented the decision of the Chief Justice, which was final, notwithstanding the appeals. Not having done so caused a delay of several months which still persists. The Chair of Gecom knows that the decision in the Christopher Ram case is the final decision of the court and must be observed, regardless of the appeal by the Attorney General.
The decision of the Chief Justice can only mean one thing, namely, that Gecom should immediately prepare for elections on the 2018 list. The continuation of the current house to house registration under the current regime in place means that names are being unlawfully removed and the use of such a list for elections would be unlawful.