Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
It may be reasonable to assume Justice Claudette Singh approaches the job as Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as a Judge, thinking hers is the responsibility to listen to arguments by the Government and Opposition Commissioners (GECOM), and cast a vote that would benefit either side. In Guyana’s divided polity the present incarnation of GECOM, based on the Price-Carter formula, was to move away from divisive decision-making.
The chairman of GECOM is expected to preside over a divided, and at time raucous, political commission with judiciousness that would achieve camaraderie, compromise and consensus-building. Thus far this is proving to be elusive, making this commission the most contentious and disagreeable. Earlier this year, former Chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally said he rarely had to vote because he worked towards having consensus between the two sides.
With Justice Singh it seems as though major decisions are often made based on votes. And where she has to cast a vote it means her vote inevitably favours one side over the other. The Commission is not a court, comprising a panel of seven judges, and the decision of the majority becomes the verdict. The commission is not unlike other state commissions where the chairman is the designated leader, and that leader values their role of bringing stakeholders together in determining final decisions.
The commission is about leadership and commitment to deliver timely and credible elections. With regard to any legal issue in ensuring proper elections the commission is staffed with a legal counsel to provide the necessary advice or take advice from the rulings of the court. It is not necessary that the chairman be a judge but someone with judicious leadership. And where the present chairman often comes down on a decision based on vote she is dividing not uniting the country in accepting our electoral practices. She continues to run the risk of exacerbating political tension and division, and the absence of national trust in the electoral processes.
It becomes convenient to remind readers when the appointment of Justice James Patterson was challenged, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled against it. That ruling had to do with the court’s interpretation that the appointment be done by consensus between the President and Leader of the Opposition. The court went further to state that the draft thinking behind the constitutional article was to foster consensus-building in governing, including day- to-day management in GECOM. It is not unreasonable to expect Justice Singh to remember and work for this.
Guyana’s politics is suffocating and destructive because of intolerance and arrogance by many in leadership. GECOM is not excluded. Its most recent vote, not consensus, to appoint a Counsel to represent the Chief Election Officer (CEO) in the petitions filed against GECOM is partisan and destructive. It will be asked, rightly so, what is the intent of the chairman not to seek consensus on this critical decision and give the CEO an opportunity to fully participate in deciding who will be representing him. In that she chose to vote with the Government Commissioners suggests she is unaware of the political environment or does not care how her decisions could be interpreted.
The partisan appointment of the Counsel comes soon after misleading society to feel the Commission had the power to implement, in its entirety, Order 60 of 2020 which dealt with the recount. Towards the end of the recount, though irregularities were documented and noted by the Commission, Justice Singh said she did not have the power to act on these and had to declare a result based on raw numbers. Didn’t she know this before? It would be difficult to convince half of the society the Order was not deceptive in intent to have partial implementation.
Guyana’s politics is primarily race-based and often people view decision made by institutions, such as GECOM, through these lens. Foremost, it is difficult to understand how Justice Singh seems disinclined to consensus-building.
The Chairwoman needs to recognise, that not unlike her predecessors, compromise and consensus-building help in creating a commission that all sides would have confidence in. Hers is a duty to strive for these.