Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
…Alexander says discussions died down after threat of COI
…Gunraj, Alexander confident that LGE can still be held this year
By Lisa Hamilton
Though the Government has given its commitment to holding Local Government Elections (LEG) in 2021, no date has yet been set and discussions about the elections at the Elections Commission have stalled for several weeks, even as the President has stated that a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the Commission is coming “soon” and likely before LGE is held.
“The Commission has backed off completely from any discussions in relation to preparations for those elections. We started to discuss the question of elections from the most fundamental standpoint of the List…during the course of those discussions, Commissioner Bibi Shadick was the most vocal person that the elections have to be held. While that was happening, [Attorney General Anil] Nandlall came out with some statements which said that they are looking at legislative means to deal with GECOM and under no circumstance will elections be held under [GECOM CEO] Lowenfield and [Deputy CEO] Myers and, suddenly in the Commission, things went completely cold and have remained cold ever since,” APNU+AFC nominated Commissioner, Vincent Alexander said.
The Commissioner told the newspaper that, in fact, matters of grave importance are not currently being discussed at the Commission so it was decided that meetings would not be held unless important matters arise. The six Commissioners along with GECOM Chair, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh, have been meeting virtually since the transition of Government in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they have not met over the last 3 weeks.
At the earlier part of the year, Alexander said that Commissioners were discussing whether they would be doing a sanitizing exercise with the entire list or within individual Local Authority Areas (LAA). Matters related to by-elections were also being discussed but, in general, no firm decisions have been made.
Seeking a balanced report, the Village Voice News also contacted PPP/C-nominated Commissioner, Sase Gunraj who confirmed: “The Commission has had no tangible discussions on that.” Even so, both Gunraj and Alexander are confident that there is still time for Local Government Elections to be held this year as promised.
WHO WILL BE INVOLVED?
Alexander, however, gave his position that any COI into the Commission that does not originate from Parliament and is not conducted impartially will only spell disaster.
On April 12, 2021, on the sidelines of the swearing-in of members of the Local Government Commission, President Irfaan Ali told the media: “You will have the COI into the elections and we are working on that. A lot has occurred over the last seven months which we are dealing with it. But it is going to come and it is going to come very soon.”
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s (PPP/Cs) position on the March 2020 General and Regional Elections and the involvement of Lowenfield, Myers and others is clear. The intention of the COI is to rid Guyana’s electoral system and the Commission of their “weaknesses” transforming them into systems citizens can trust.
Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall explained the intention further during the 2021 budget debates, stating: “We cannot continue to have any elections in this country because anyone who believes in good governance, transparency and accountability can never have Lowenfield, Myers, Mingo at the head of the secretariat of GECOM. The majority of people in this country will not condone it and we will not condone it.”
However, Alexander questioned that given that the intention is to launch a COI into the elections and GECOM, who will be the members of the team working towards an impartial inquiry and where will the directive of the Inquiry come from?
“Any COI has to originate from the Parliament. One that does not originate from the Parliament I will have difficulty being a participant in that. I would also have to see what is it that the COI provides for and who are the people involved in the COI before I give my final position. Because, what has happened in the past COIs is that the Terms of Reference are fashioned in a manner to achieve an objective,” Alexander said.
On the matter of the members on the COI team, President Ali last said that while no potential members have been named he had been “engaging various international stakeholders”.
When asked his thoughts, Commissioner Gunraj said that the COI is outside of the ambit of GECOM and therefore he would prefer not to share much of his personal opinions at this time. However, he did show optimism that there would be an impartial COI team.
“I have no doubt that the team will be impartial. I have heard the comments of the President and I have no doubt that it will be an impartial and competent team,” he said.
Ultimately, Commissioner Alexander said the outcome of a COI with regards to GECOM would end with a decision from the very Commission on which he serves. If the aforementioned factors regarding Parliamentary approval and impartiality are not met, he said that Commissioners nominated by the APNU+AFC will not contribute to a vote similarly to the way they abstained from doing such in relation to the final results of the 2020 General and Regional Elections because they believe the process was flawed.
“The fact of the matter is that the authority resides in the Commission. So, these things will still come down to the Chairman,” he said.
In his view, Alexander does not believe that fault can be found with the actions of Lowenfield, Myers or Mingo — a position the Village Voice News will expound upon further in a follow-up article.
FINANCING SET ASIDE
Meanwhile, with no date proposed or set for the elections, there has also been no request for funding for the same by the Commission. However, in the 2021 Budget, GECOM has been allocated some $1.1 billion for the holding of LGE.
Of that amount, $237.7 million will go towards the printing of 500,000 ballots and other publications and $285.7 million will go to voter education and other programmes. The 500,000 ballots will cater for the local authority areas that make up over 80 per cent of the population based on the 2018 LGE.
Some $135.7 million has also been set aside for the training of 8,500 elections day staff. Another $81.6 million will be for the rental of buildings for staff, voters and the public along with other activities relating to elections. Meanwhile, $75.6 million has been set aside for meals and subsistence for staff at the 1,700 polling stations.
The last LGE was last held on November 12, 2018. The results showed the PPP/C won with 122,307 (61%) votes followed by the APNU with 68,060 (34%) votes and the AFC with 8,719 (4%) votes. Other small parties accounted for 2,995 (1%) votes