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…says GECOM must be fixed first
President Irfaan Ali said on Monday that Local Government Election (LGE) will not be held again in Guyana until the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is transformed into a non-bias and trustworthy system in its facilitation of national elections.
The last time Local Government Elections were held in Guyana was in 2018 and it is expected to be held every two years. Before then, under the current Administration’s 23 years of leadership in the past, no LGEs were held.
However, in 2015, when the former President David Granger-led administration came into Government, it held two LGEs over a four-year period removing the PPP/C-established Interim Management Committees (IMC) that were running the municipalities of Guyana.
Speaking to the media at the sidelines of a ceremony at the Arthur Chung Conference Center (ACCC) on Monday, the President slashed the expectations for LGEs anytime soon.
“What we have to do is to fix what is there first. We have to ensure that we have a system that is working, a system that we can trust, a system that is professional, a system that operates in a non-bias manner so that the people of our country have confidence,” he said
Coming out of the famed 2020 General and Regional Elections in Guyana, which lasted for several months, were recommendations from international Election Observation Missions (EOMs) which agreed that Guyana’s Election Commission possessed many flaws.
For instance, a report from the CARICOM three-member Team recommended a political audit of GECOM — its Commission and Administrative Arm – to examine its successes and failings and the factors which contributed. In an extensive interview with the Village Voice recently, GECOM Commissioner, Vincent Alexander said that while he supports a yearly review of the work of GECOM he remains skeptical about a “political audit” as no Government with a clearly established political bias can conduct a fair “political audit”. “The big question would be: who’s gonna conduct this audit?” he said.
The President did not speak to this recommendation but he highlighted the Government’s plan to launch an international Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the operations of GECOM. On October 1, 2020 he said that this COI would “independently bring to us what occurred, where are the weaknesses and where the holes were.”
According to President Ali, the concern about the professionalism of the system at GECOM is not only his but that of all Guyanese. “I’ve received letters from many, many stakeholders in our country and they all told me in those letters, in those conversations, that they do not want to go back through a process that they went through in those five months. That is the general consensus in this population and that is of uttermost importance in the minds of our people and that is what we have to address and GECOM itself, the Commission itself, that is an independent Commission and they have to address this also. The COI and so on will help to highlight issues, to highlight weaknesses, challenges, opportunities, threats and ensure the system is fixed the way it should be,” he said on Monday on the sidelines.
There are multiple other defects of the Commission raised by EOMs which Commissioners themselves are unsure the country’s two main political parties have a true interest in fixing. One example is the CARCOM Team’s cautioning that to maintain GECOM in its present form would be a “tragedy for the nation”. It noted that GECOM is a “creature of the dominant political parties” and that Commissioners have little interest in reflecting the will of the people but only that of the parties which nominated them.
The method of appointment of GECOM Commissioners originated from a recommendation of from former U.S. President Jimmy and though it makes the Commission highly political, Alexander said that it may be a safer bet than opening it up to civil society or private sector individuals, many of which disclosed their political allegiance during the elections.
“There is a lot of pretense about being purely of civil society and being objective when, in fact, people have political agendas and therefore you have no guarantee that a Commission that is made up solely of these so-called civil society people will be any better and, in fact, may be worse. Unless we can find a mechanism to ensure we don’t have ‘sleepers’ of political parties parading as Civil society on that Commission…we know what to expect of it and it would be a better bet than the unknown,” he told the Village Voice.
President Ali did not speak to the make-up of the Commission on Monday. This is even as the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) just recently nominated a new representative on the Commission, Manoj Narayan, who would replace now Minister of Home Affairs and former Commissioner, Robeson Benn. Narayan is a partner at the law firm of Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall.
Recommendations from EOMs have also called for an investigation into the missing documents observed during the national recount; a Code of Conduct for party agents; the total re-registration of all voters in Guyana; media monitoring during elections and greater emphasis on voter education, especially with regard to the handling of ballot papers by Presiding Officers.
It is unclear whether the PPP/C Government intends to address all recommendations made or whether there are specific issues it hopes to “fix” before the next LGE is held.