November 23, 2017

High Court challenge to GECOM Chair’s appointment now set for January

– as Acting Chief Justice reprimands airing of case in public domain

Weeks after parliamentary opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) filed an injunction in the High Court to rescind the unilateral appointment of GECOM Chairman retired Justice James Patterson, acting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire on Thursday urged lawyers for both sides to cease “trying the case in the court of public opinion”.
Her call was issued before she set a timetable for Attorney General, Basil Williams and Attorney-at-Law for the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Anil Nandlall and their respective legal teams to file court papers for clarification and oral arguments before January 5, 2018.
Justice George-Wiltshire said “Persons are free to comment but they must not be contemptuous,” as supporters of both the governing A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition and Opposition who were present listened keenly. She also asked the legal representatives “not to engage the public gathering in this case”.
The acting Chief Justice said she was disturbed by some of the headlines in many of news reports, some of which carried opinions on the case that is now before the Constitutional Court of the High Court, inserting “I don’t want to put a gag order”.
She asked the lawyers from both sides to respect her comments and added that she has no issue with comments made on decisions.
When the legal teams reappear before the Chief Justice early next year, it would be for clarifications and elaboration of any points.
The PPP, through its Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha, wants the High Court to quash the President’s unilateral appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson as GECOM Chairman on several grounds.
According to the party, their main reason for filing the injunction is because the President did not select any of the 18 names that had been submitted by Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo throughout almost one year before.
The PPP also contends that Patterson is biased because he is a member of a pro-People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Facebook Page and he was part of an inner circle of top PNCR executives as pallbearers of the body of late party leader, Desmond Hoyte.
Solicitor General, Kim Kyte has since, on behalf of the Attorney General, filed court papers rejecting all of the PPP’s grounds.
On Thursday during the proceedings, a small group of pro-government supporters gathered outside the court building on Charlotte Street making their views known quite loudly.
After the case was adjourned, Attorney General Williams, who is the Chairman of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) went downstairs and told the gathering to leave.

New York State employees to benefit from Public Service Award says Governor

… Honorees will receive a $5,000 professional development scholarship

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that nominations are now being accepted for the Empire Star Public Service Award, a $5,000 professional development scholarship program for New York State employees. Nominations are being accepted for those who have distinguished themselves through their dedication to serve the public with a high level of performance, integrity, and pride.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen here on Nov. 1, 2017
Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

“Every day, hardworking men and women who make up the state’s public workforce strive to help improve the lives of their fellow New Yorkers,” Governor Cuomo said. “With the launch of the Empire Star Public Service Award, employees who demonstrate an extraordinary level of dedication to their work will be honored, and we will acknowledge their contributions to the Empire State as we continue to support a stronger, better New York for all.”
According to a statement from the Governor’s office, the Empire Star Public Service Award will recognize exemplary state government employees from all ten regions of New York, based upon their principle office location. To be eligible for consideration, nominees must be a New York State employee serving in the Executive Branch. Nominations must be submitted no later than December 15, 2017 and can be completed online at: www.ny.gov/EmpireStarPublicService.
Individuals who are nominated will be notified via email and asked to submit an application for final consideration that will be reviewed by a panel of state government leaders. Final applications are due by January 15, 2018.
All applications will be reviewed for program eligibility and evaluated for performance and excellence. The review process may also include interviews with agency personnel to obtain additional information in support of the nomination.
Cuomo said that final selection will be made collectively by the Awards Selection Committee, which includes:
Rossana Rosado, Secretary of State
Lola W. Brabham, Acting Commissioner of the Department of Civil Service
Michael N. Volforte, Director of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations
Robert H. Samson, Chief Information Officer of the Office of Information Technology Services
Eric J. Hesse, Director of the Division of Veterans’ Affairs
Kerry Delaney, Acting Commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities
Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the Office for Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
The Governor posited that the $5,000 professional development scholarship will go towards supporting participation in advanced training via classroom or online courses, admission in college or community college classes that will benefit them in their current public employment, as well as for materials and equipment to support additional training.
Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said, “New York State has thousands of employees who work tirelessly to improve the lives of every New Yorker. With the launch of the Empire Star Public Service Award we commend our workforce for their high standards in public service, including dedication, and commitment to excellence to make this state a better place to live, work and raise a family.”
“From our first responders to our engineers, nurses, research scientists, plow drivers, and more, New York State government is privileged to be composed of a diverse and dedicated workforce that is committed to serving the people of the great Empire State,” said Acting Civil Service Commissioner Lola W. Brabham. “This new program will publicly recognize the accomplishments of our most outstanding public servants, while supporting their professional growth, so that we can continue to draw upon their full talent and potential and provide the public with the best possible services.”
“While every employee’s contribution is important and appreciated, many individual contributors often stand out by exemplifying the highest standards of public service and exceeding what is simply expected of them in their day-to-day role, as well as in unforeseen circumstances and emergencies,” said Director of the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations Michael N. Volforte said. “I commend all of our employees for their dedication to making New York State a great place to live, work, and play.”

GECOM Chair’s role in ‘Grenada 17’ trial condemned by Human Rights Authority

…as pressure continues to bear down on Patterson to resign

Amid heavy criticisms over the unilateral appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the Guyana Human Rights Authority (GHRA) has now brought new information to the public’s attention about the alleged involvement of retired Justice James Patterson with the infamous “Grenada 17” trial of which he had a heavy hand in, while serving in the judicial system on that island.

GECOM Chairman, Justice (retired) James Patterson

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the GHRA made reference to the United States’ (US) invasion of Grenada in 1983, which led to a trial of the surviving 17 alleged ringleaders – known as the “Grenada 17”. The trial was held by a group of Attorneys and Judges appointed and paid for by the US, according to a sworn affidavit of Ramsey Clark, the former US Attorney General.
The GHRA reminded that aspects of the trials were dominated by the US Administration which generated widespread international condemnation. It was noted by Clark that the trial was not presided over by any constitutional court or other tribunal of the island of Grenada. Following the trials, all records were removed to the US and access to them has been extremely difficult ever since.
The human rights watchdog recalled that there were many disturbing facts about the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of the defendants in this matter. A number of witnesses were interrogated and documents seized. Most of this material was never made available to counsel for the defence. And the selection of Judges was a very serious violation of commonly accepted notions of due process of law.
During that period, there were also reports that the jury was picked with no effort to probe for prejudice and no defendant or defence counsel present and without cross-examination. Further, the GHRA noted that motions to ensure a proper and fair jury were not heard until the trial court was ordered to do so for the third time nearly three years after the convictions, among a long list of other human rights violations.
But significantly also, the GHRA claimed that among the Judges associated with this infamous period of Caribbean history was Justice Patterson. He along with other Judges who participated in this matter at that time, found no fault with the serious violation of accepted notions of due process of law.
But the GHRA did not stop there, the organisation pointed to the request for access to a wide range of documents related to the trials by US-based academic, Dr Richard Gibson, who filed a Freedom of Information (FoI) request following a visit to Grenada in 1996. He managed to gain access to some of the documents and later released some information on the case trial.
In Dr Gibson’s writings as stated by the GHRA press statement, it revealed that a US political officer reported meeting with the Chief Justice of Grenada and that individual had related that the hangings of the ‘Grenada 17’ defendants was expected to take place in 1988. Importantly, this discussion took place when the Chief Justice had a motion pending before him that was capable of nullifying all of the convictions.
The GHRA also noted that the report revealed the extent to which the US Government was supervising the legal process, down to supervising and exerting clear influence to have the trial record produced. Meetings were held with the Chief Justice and there was regular contact with the secretary of the Chief Justice to get the matter moving. This level of interest is truly amazing, according to the local body.
The GHRA highlighted in its press statement that the human rights dimension of this case was not only disgraceful on the part of the ‘judicial actors’, but it also allegedly involved Patterson who has now been elevated to one of the most sensitive posts and constitutional offices in Guyana.
“Moreover, national elections in Guyana are the subject of intense interest and require frequent inter-action between the Commissioner, contending parties and the diplomatic community. The extracts from the official documents quoted above encourage the conclusion that when confronted with the interests of a foreign power Justice Patterson could not be relied on to keep his own counsel or maintain the impartiality or discretion required in a Chairman of GECOM,” the body opined.
GHRA said within the general context of Justice Patterson’s suitability for the GECOM post and in light of the foregoing an additional question must inevitably arise. “Is a person who has never disassociated himself from being at the centre of an episode which tarnished the reputation of the Caribbean judicial community for a generation a ‘fit and proper’ person to be Chairman of GECOM?”
Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had filed an injunction in the High Court to rescind the appointment on the grounds of unconstitutionality. The injunction is seeking a declaration that Justice Patterson is not qualified to be appointed in provision with Article 161-2 of the Constitution of Guyana.
The PPP had raised concerns about Patterson’s alleged alignment with the major party in the coalition Government, the People’s National Congress (PNC). The party claimed that he is an active member of a PNC-related website and was also a pallbearer at the funeral of former President Desmond Hoyte.

Sexual Offences Court launched to deal with increasing cases

– court will be equipped with trained personnel

After years of extensive discussion and planning among stakeholders, the Supreme Court of Judicature (High Court) on Monday launched the Sexual Offences Court with hopes to take this same model to the other two counties – Berbice and Essequibo – in an effort to reduce the increased incidence of such cases.

Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards addressing the launch of the Sexual Offences Court on Monday

In declaring the court open, acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards said that the specialist court was properly staffed and would see the rotation of criminal judges. The Chancellor also noted that the courtroom was properly equipped and would include a victim support unit.
“We have a panel of eminent judges and witnesses, a special room to testify and a panel of support staff and an energetic chief justice… there will be no shortage of personnel to do the work. We wish to take this model to Berbice and Essequibo, where we have Supreme Courts,” she announced.
Justice Cummings-Edwards told a gathering of members of the local Bar Association, several prominent lawyers and other guests that training for personnel working for this specific court would also be provided. She said that two categories of persons from Trinidad were willing to provide the necessary training.
“They are willing to come on board to train – one is a sexual abuse specialist (children), a psychologist and as well as criminal law judge involved with sexual offence matters that helped to shape our guidelines and legislation,” the acting Chancellor explained, noting that this would be extended to the other courts.
While reminding people that the Sexual Offences Court will be victim-centred, she said this did not mean that the constitutional rights of the accused person would be disregarded. She stated that the presumption of innocence and equal protection would be remembered in these matters.
Justice Cummings-Edwards drew reference to statistics which have shown that sexual offences have been on the rise, both regionally and locally. “And we know that sexual offences do have a far-reaching impact on the victims whether they be adults or children, vulnerable groups…”
She continued, “When we look at statistics, more than 50 per cent of the cases for the Demerara Assizes over the last two sessions showed us that sexual offences comprised half of the list. So if half of the list comprised sexual offences, it meant that the other indictable offences like robbery and rape took second place…that is something we have to address.”
The acting Chancellor reminded that sexual offences affect victims emotionally, psychologically, and physically and those effects could be long term, short term, and it could also affect the development of the victims. And these victims require specialist treatment on the part of everyone concerned, be it the Police, investigators, medical practitioners, NGOs, prosecution, the court.
She emphasised that the entire process from investigation to the final adjudication and the entire criminal justice system as a whole must be careful how they approach this work. She believes if caution is not taken, secondary trauma or secondary victimisation could be inflicted on victims and witnesses of sexual offences and this is something that should be avoided.
Meanwhile, acting Chief Justice Roxanne George noted that the judiciary was cognisant of the concerns that have been expressed as regards the implementation of the Sexual Offences Act, but said that the judicial system has responded and has been working assiduously to make the opening a reality.
The Sexual Offences Court was birthed out of the Sexual Offences Act 2010, which was spearheaded by former Human Services and Education Minister Priya Manickchand. The former Minister had led what was then called the ‘Stamp it Out’ Campaign in 2010 which saw widespread consultations around the country, as regards sexual offences and other major human rights issues facing Guyana.

Opposition Leader to verify claims of Govt receiving US$20M signing bonus from ExxonMobil

Amid concerns that the Government may have allegedly accepted a US$20 million signing bonus from United States (U.S.) oil giant ExxonMobil, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has made a commitment to ask the company if this information that has been circulating is indeed factual.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo

Jagdeo maintains that the Government should maintain a high level of transparency when it comes to this new and emerging sector and should not hesitate to release the contract. The former head of state said that he was briefed on the visit by Government ministers in Texas but that issue was not out yet.
“When I meet them (ExxonMobil) I will ask,” Jagdeo told the local media on Wednesday, explaining the need for Government to be truthful to the nation and provide all the necessary information about this sector. He emphasised that this will help to bring greater accountability to the running of the sector.
The information was brought to the fore in one of the columns written by social activist Christopher Ram which alleged that the hefty signature bonus paid by ExxonMobil forms part of the new contract agreement signed when the APNU+AFC government took office.
According to Ram, this may be one of the primary reasons why the Government continues to hold out on making the contract available. He further alleged that Government used the excuse of a new licence to extract a signature bonus, but he believes they should come clean on the matter.
Government has since refused to make the contract public and have only said there were minor changes to the initial 1999 contract agreement. Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman has responded to those calls and said that full disclosure would not be best for national interest.
“Right now we are prepared to share the salient features of the contract, it is a 50/50 production share agreement…that means that Exxon and its partners will share 50 percent between themselves and Guyana will (have) 50 percent,” he also revealed at a public forum a few months ago.
Trotman has also repeatedly played up the fact that the contract signed with ExxonMobil and Government predates the APNU+AFC government’s accession to office, explaining that that is enough reasons why the Government is in no rush to release the new contract that was signed.
The Minister had stated publicly that that matter would have to be discussed at the level of Cabinet for added guidance. When asked about whether Government collected a signature bonus from ExxonMobil when a new agreement was signed, he responded, “Nothing on the contract I am discussing. I would like to take this whole issue of the publication of the contract to cabinet for guidance.”

Columnist, social activist Christopher Ram

Finance Minister Winston Jordan has said too that he is unaware that Government received a signing bonus. However, the senior Government minister did not deny it. He has since promised to check on the matter and relate to the media whether it is true. No senior functionary of the Government has come out to clarify or confirm that a US$20 million signing bonus was received from ExxonMobil.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has denounced, as an absolute falsehood, contentions peddled by the Coalition Government that the Jagdeo Administration passed, in 1997, an amendment to the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act which prevents the disclosure of the ExxonMobil contract.
“This ridiculous assertion has been parroted repeatedly by several members of the Coalition Government, including Ministers Raphael Trotman, Dominic Gaskin and Khemraj Ramjattan. This lie is either peddled deliberately, or is yet another exhibition of the extravagant incompetence about which we regularly complain in respect of this Government,” the party had said in a statement.
The PPP believes that ministers of the Government are deliberately lying, or being unable to read and comprehend what is expressed in Section 4 of the Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act. According to the PPP, this section of the Act expressly authorises disclosures such as the ExxonMobil contract, not prohibition, “as these incompetent Ministers have been asserting.”
It was reported by the opposition party that Government spokespersons in their assertions, “attribute this prohibition as an amendment to the law done in 1997 by President Bharrat Jagdeo…Even this they got wrong. Mr. Jagdeo was not the President in 1997.”
The party has reiterated that “the 1997 amendments do not prohibit the disclosure of such information…Therefore; all Ministers have been shamelessly misleading the nation.”

NYC general elections see popular C’bean candidates re-elected

The son of Grenadian immigrants, Jumaane Williams and a Haitian-born immigrant Dr Mathieu Eugene were victorious in their campaigns to be re-elected to the 40th and 45th Council Districts in the New York City general elections respectively.

Jumaane Williams

Both men who are Democrats secured another four-year term in districts that are predominantly Caribbean.
Dr Mathieu Eugene, the first Haitian to hold elective office in New York City defeated Brian Christopher Cunningham by garnering 60 per cent of the votes.
Cunningham, who is the son of Jamaican immigrants, ran on the Reform Party line and secured 36 per cent of the votes while Brian Kelly, who also challenged Eugene, ran on the Conservative Party ticket but only received three per cent of the votes.
“Thank God for giving me the opportunity to be elected one more time, to continue do what I love doing – serving the people,” Eugene told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) after the results were announced. “I like to thank all the voters and supporters for putting their trust and confidence me. “I pledge to work harder, to continue to do what I can to address the issues and improve the quality of life for all, including those who did not vote for me,” he added.
According to the CMC, Eugene said even though he has accomplished a lot in his district, his priorities are to “address the challenges facing the youth; to ensure quality education with smaller class size; to improve access to healthcare for all people; to expand employment opportunities; to improve public safety services and police/community relations; to improve affordable housing opportunities and support immigrant rights; as well as to provide strong advocacy for neighbourhood preservation and homeowners.’
“I believe much more needs to be done, and I will do everything I can to address the challenges,” said Eugene, stating that he has been “well known and respected for more than a decade as a community leader, educator, health professional, local media personality and founder of the non-profit organisation, YES (Youth Education and Sports).”

Dr. Mathieu Eugene

Meanwhile, Williams, who is now serving his third and final term, defeated Anthony Beckford, of the True Freedom Party by a significant margin, receiving over 97 per cent of the votes for his District.
Moreover, Williams, who currently serves as Deputy Leader of the New York City Council, chair of the Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, and co-chair of the Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, is also among eight candidates vying to become Speaker of New York City Council in the Special Elections in January.
In the run up to the elections held on Tuesday last, Williams told the CMC that the “last eight years have truly been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career,” he added. “If you want to continue the work we’ve begun and make sure the next four years are an opportunity to create a long-lasting foundation for future generations, please come out to vote. “Some of you may feel that I may not have a competitive race…To those of you that are pondering such thoughts, I ask you to look at the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC [President Donald J Trump] right now. We are well past the point of taking anything for granted” said Williams.
Mayor of New York Bill De Blasio, another Democrat, was also re-elected to serve another four years.

Police officers under investigation for brutal murder of teacher

Two Constables of the Guyana Police Force have been placed under close arrest in connection with the brutal attack on 22-year-old Kescia Branche while another two have been questioned. The Police said one of the ranks, under close arrest is refusing to cooperate with investigators.

Dead: School teacher
Kescia Branche

The woman who was the reported victim of a brutal beating last weekend and was said to be in an “unresponsive” state at the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC) has succumbed to her injuries.
The mother of one and a teacher attached to the Richard Ishmael Secondary School resided in Cummings Lodge, Greater Georgetown.
The teacher reportedly succumbed to her injuries at around 17:00h on Tuesday while receiving medical treatment at the GPHC.
The unconscious body of the Richard Ismael Secondary School teacher was found in the vicinity of Princes Street and Louisa Row, Georgetown on Sunday morning and was rushed to the GPHC where she remained in an unconscious state, hooked up to life support machines.
Her father, Alfred Branche, told this newspaper on Tuesday that he is still trying to determine what happened to his daughter. He confirmed that the mother of one died as she was receiving treatment for severe injuries and made an appeal to anyone who may have information to come forward. She died with her twin sister at her bedside.
Kescia, who resided in Cummings Lodge, Greater Georgetown, was last seen on Saturday evening, when she left for a night out with her friends. The Police is seeking the public’s assistance to determine what may have transpired resulting in the brutal beating of the young woman.
A source close to the investigation revealed that detectives were on Monday reviewing the CCTV footage at the popular Newtown Night Club where the woman was seen partying and came across evidence of the Officer interacting with the deceased. Kescia and a friend, who is also in custody, left in a vehicle driven by the Police Constable according to the source.
Police investigations are ongoing.

Spat between Police lovers leads to attempted murder-suicide

– Dead cop’s family upset over not being contacted

By Vanhu Manikchand

A Police Constable took his own life on Tuesday evening after shooting his girlfriend, also a Police rank, following an argument during which he reportedly accused her of being unfaithful.
Dead is 20-year-old Constable 22834 Clement Cockfield, of Friendship, East Coast Demerara; while woman Constable 23464 Shanice Fraser, 21, of Lot 28 Middle Street, Pouderoyen, West Bank Demerara, is currently in a critical condition at the Georgetown Public Hospital (GPHC).

Critically injured: Constable
Shanice Fraser

The incident occurred sometime around 08:30pm at the La Grange Police Station, where the couple was stationed. Fraser, who has a two-year-old daughter, was reportedly shot four times to her upper body – once to her back, shoulder, arm and throat – while Cockfield shot himself once to the head.
Guyana Times International understands that the couple have been together for approximately six months and recently, they were having troubles in the relationship.
“They were starting to get a lil talking now and then….because he was a very jealous person. He never used to want she talk to people, go out without him…,” Fraser’s aunt, Rennet Layers, told this newspaper.
According to Police reports, the two Constables worked different shifts at the La Grange Station and on Tuesday night, Cockfield reported for anti-crime patrol duty and uplifted a .38 service revolver with six rounds, while Fraser had just completed a tour of duty.
A few minutes later, they were seen on the stairway of the Police station and gunshots were subsequently heard.
It was reported that Fraser ran down the stairs into the yard and was seen bleeding profusely. She was assisted by other ranks on duty when Cockfield pursued her and discharged more shots at her.
Fraser attempted to escape the enraged man but collapsed in the station’s compound. The Police further stated that other ranks pleaded with Cockfield to stand down but instead he turned the gun on himself, firing the final shot to his head.
The couple were picked up and rushed to the West Demerara Regional Hospital where Cockfield was pronounced dead on arrival. His injured girlfriend was subsequently transferred to the GPHC for further treatment. She is currently in the Intensive Care Unit and is expected to undergo more surgeries.
Meanwhile, the parents of the young man are claiming that the story they were told of what transpired does not add up.
“(The Police) telling me that my son shot the girl, then shot himself; he get up back again and come towards the vehicle that they were trying to put the girl in and some officer go fuh hold he and he shot himself again… but I’m saying if a man shot himself in the head, how can he get up back and shot himself again. I feel something of the sort ain’t right because, honestly, it is really hard to believe this,” the distraught father posited.
At the time, Cockfield’s family was retrieving his belongings from the La Grange Police Station. His father related that the 20-year-old has been serving the Police Force for over three years, having joined immediately after school.
On the other hand, Cockfield’s mother told this newspaper that she saw her son earlier on Tuesday and he showed no signs of being distressed.

Dead: Constable
Clement Cockfield

“He didn’t say anything, he didn’t tell me anything. He didn’t come as if he had a problem or anything,” the woman cried as she recalled the final moments with her son.
She noted that after spending about three hours at home, Cockfield left for work. Sometime later in the evening, the woman said she heard about a shooting incident involving Police Officers and after attempts to contact her son and his girlfriend proved futile, she decided to travel to West Demerara.
“Out of curiosity, we just decided to take a car and come over. When we reach (at the hospital), they say is a Police shot himself and nobody don’t know who is the Police. So I decided to go in and then is when I see is my son lying down, dead in his uniform,” the woman recalled.
She expressed her anger at the fact that no one from the Station made contact with any of Cockfield’s relatives to inform them about what had transpired.
“They apologise for that, but how could you apologise saying everybody was confused. I just come out of curiosity and when I reach, everybody was in shock… It’s painful, he is just 20 (years). He didn’t even start enjoying anything, he ain’t even live his life yet,” the aggrieved woman cried.
Meanwhile, the relatives of 21-year-old Fraser told this newspaper on Wednesday that they are not sure what really transpired between the couple, noting that the mother of one appeared fine before she left for work on Tuesday morning.

Pressure mounts over GECOM appointment

…as massive protest greets President on arrival at Parliament

A large group of protesters, supported by Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo and other People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Parliamentarians congregated before Parliament reconvened on Thursday and demonstrated their disapproval of President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of (Rtd) Justice James Patterson as the new Chairman of the Guyana Elections’ Commission (GECOM).

Citizens, some representing civil society and the Opposition PPP/C, were very vocal in expressing their displeasure over the recent controversial appointment and held up placards bearing various slogans calling for the President to respect the Constitution of Guyana.
President Granger also addressed the National Assembly amid an in-house protest by Opposition MPs armed with placards voicing their concerns over several actions taken by the APNU/AFC Administration since it took office in May 2015.
PPP/C MPs did not walk out of the House as President Granger was addressing the National Assembly at the end its two month recess, but instead held up placards and shouted slogans at times drowning out the voice of the President. Opposition MPs chanted slogans such as “free and fair elections”, “no more rigging” and “not fit and proper” in clear reference to the recent controversial GECOM appointment.
However, the President continued his address as if he was not bothered despite his voice was drowned out at times by Opposition chants.
Amid calls to have the issue relating to the appointment of the Chairman of GECOM addressed in the new Constitution, the Opposition Leader said that there is need to have strong compliance with the current Constitution now.
Addressing members of the media on Wednesday, Jagdeo said the idea being pitched around by supporters of the current Administration is that the issue could be fixed later, because the unilateral appointment of a GECOM Chairman is a “done deal” and does not have any bearing.
“We need constitutional compliance now,” Jagdeo said.
The former Head of State reminded that the Carter Formula has worked for over 25 years and both parties had agreed with it. He also noted that the current formula is enshrined in the Constitution, and therefore there is need for constitutional compliance to take place now.
“We can change the system in the future but until we do that (David) Granger and the others have to act in accordance with our Constitution,” he asserted.
Asked whether he was prepared to submit a fourth list to the President, the Opposition Leader said he would have done so if the President had agreed to comply with the court’s ruling.
Chief Justice Roxane George had ruled that the President is not obliged to select a person from the six names on the list unless he has determined that the persons are unacceptable as fit and proper for the appointment and that he cannot deem the entire list unacceptable if one or more nominees are not fit and proper.
Jagdeo maintained that the President acted in bad faith. He again accused the Head of State of being “untrustworthy”, pointing out that the move is unconstitutional in which he acted in defiance of a judgement.
“He renounced 25 years of common understanding and history between our parties and they are trying to polarise this country once again along the lines of race when this issue has nothing to do with this,” the Opposition Leader stated.
Responsible
debate not race
Another issue of contention raised by the Opposition was the fact that some groups and individuals, who are closely associated to the current Government, have moved away from having responsible debate about the issue and are now actively engaged in making it a race issue.
Jagdeo reminded that the issue has nothing to do with race, noting that while some people wanted to create an impression that his list did not contain any person of Afro-Guyanese background, that idea is false and from reality. “I have seen a flurry of activities delegated in the public media to distorting the fact surrounding the matter of the appointment of Chairman of GECOM,” he added.
Court action
The People’s Progressive Party has already filed High Court proceedings to quash the appointment of Justice Patterson as GECOM Chairman because he was not picked from among the 18 nominees and that he appears to be closely linked to the People’s National Congress Reform, the largest partner in the governing coalition.
Civil society, including the business community and trade unions have come out in strong opposition and have slammed the decision taken by President Granger. The Private Sector Commission has since condemned the decision as “dangerous” and a threat to democracy.
The United States (US) has also issued a call for Guyana’s High Court to swiftly settle the ongoing controversy over the appointment of the new GECOM Chairman.

Cuomo announces enhanced security measures following attack in Lower Manhattan

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced that following the apparent terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan he has directed state agencies, including the New York State Police, National Guard, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to increase security at high-profile locations around the state, including airports, bridges, tunnels, and mass transit systems.
According to a release issued by the Governor’s office, additional personnel are being deployed to high-density areas and large public gatherings. These are precautionary measures, not based on any specific intelligence on ongoing threats.

Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the New York City truck

Uzbek immigrant , Sayfullo Saipov , 29, is being accused of killing eight people when he drove a truck down a New York City bike path on Tuesday. The suspect, told investigators he was inspired by watching Islamic State videos and began planning the attack a year ago, according to a criminal complaint filed against him on Wednesday.
Saipov also said “he felt good about what he had done” and asked for permission to display the flag of the militant group Islamic State in his hospital room, the complaint said.
Saipov faces two charges, one of which carries the death penalty if the government chooses to seek it, Manhattan acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said. The charges are one count of violence and destruction of motor vehicles causing the deaths of eight people and one count of providing material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization – Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The maximum penalty for the first is death; the maximum for the second life in prison, Kim said.
Governor Cuomo has directed One World Trade Center to be lit in red, white and blue in honor of freedom and democracy.
Governor Cuomo said, “I am deeply saddened by the attack on New York, and I join all New Yorkers in mourning the innocent lives we lost today. New York is an international symbol of freedom and democracy, and that makes us a target for people who oppose our way of life. I want to reassure all New Yorkers that at this point we have no evidence that today’s attack is part of a wider plot involving more than one individual”.
Cuomo added: “Out of an abundance of caution, we are stepping up security measures at high-profile locations and large public gatherings while the investigation continues. I want to thank all of the first responders, including the New York State Police, Port Authority Police Department, NYPD, FDNY and all of the other personnel who put their lives on the line every day. I encourage all New Yorkers to go about their business and live their lives without fear.”
State Police & National Guard
The New York State Police and the National Guard have also been in contact with federal officials as well as local law enforcement partners, including the New York City Police Department. At the Governor’s direction, as a precaution, the State Police and National Guard have deployed additional resources and increased surveillance of large public gatherings and critical infrastructure including transportation hubs.
Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services
DHSES has been in contact with key local public safety officials following the attack in Lower Manhattan. The DHSES Watch Center, as a precaution, has entered enhanced monitoring mode and has increased monitoring of various large public gatherings. DHSES remains in a state of readiness and prepared to disseminate information to our public safety partners statewide as necessary.
Port Authority of New York & New Jersey
Port Authority Police are on heightened alert at all of the agency’s bridge, tunnel, rail, World Trade Center and other facilities. Actions include increased patrols and checks of bags, buses, trucks and trains at agency locations. Travelers are reminded to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities to police or other authorities.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority
The MTA has increased its patrols and surveillance in order to provide heightened protection across all its agencies. The MTA Police Department has stepped up its uniformed and plainclothes presence in Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal as well as other major stations throughout the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road network. Police canine teams and units with heavy weapons will provide extra protection as well as a noticeable sign of increased security. Railroad customers will also see surge patrols, increased step-on/step-off patrols of trains, and random bag checks at various locations.
Behind the scenes, the MTA Police Department, MTA New York City Transit security and MTA Bridges and Tunnels Officers share intelligence information and coordinate their threat response with other police and security agencies to ensure a seamless web of protection throughout the region.
New York State Police and the New York National Guard members have been assigned to high-profile MTA locations for more than a year, and they are helping secure these locations as well as reassuring the public that the authorities are dedicated to ensuring their safety. The MTA closely monitors large public events that occur in or near its facilities and will provide heightened awareness of activities there.
The MTA works closely with the NYPD to secure New York’s subways and buses, and MTA Bridges and Tunnels Officers are using a mix of visual and technological surveillance to ensure safety at its seven bridges and two tunnels in New York City.
“If You See Something, Say Something”
New Yorkers are reminded to stay alert to their surroundings, and to report any suspicious activity. Reports can be made to the Counter Terrorism Center at the New York State Intelligence Center via its terrorism tip line: 1-866-SAFENYS (1-866-723-3697); or by email: ctcenter@nysic.ny.gov.
New Yorkers can also download See Something, Send Something on your smartphone to inform authorities of a potential threat. Visit https://www.ny.gov/programs/see-something-send-something for more information.