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…says move necessary to allow for an impartial process, rebuild public confidence in the Commission
By Svetlana Marshall
Even as the Election Commissioners prepare to shortlist the applicants for the posts of Chief Elections Officer (CEO) and Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO), Lenox Shuman – the country’s Deputy Speaker in the National Assembly – believes it is not too late for the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM) to reconsider its November 9 decision, and seek international help to aid in the selection process in an effort to rebuild the public’s confidence in the Commission.
Shuman, in a letter to the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh on November 11, urged the Chair to use her executive power to seek international support in the process of hiring the Chief Elections Officer, Deputy Chief Elections Officer and other senior functionaries in light of the partisan stance taken by the six Election Commissioners. But his letter was dispatched two days after the Chair of GECOM voted with the three Government-nominated Commissioners to overturn a proposal for there to be an independent panel to aid in the shortlisting of the candidates vying for the two top positions.
“Madam Chair, the troubles of the political history of Guyana and the troubles that reoccur are but a few page-turns away and quite voluminous. There continues to be two political party that purport to represent Guyana sitting to the right and left of you, when in fact we know they are very partisan; and the nation is aware that the Price-Carter formula has outlived its usefulness as was clearly evidenced by the most recent elections and previous elections,” the Deputy Speaker said in his letter to Justice (Ret’d) Singh.
As of 13:30hrs on Friday, the Deputy Speaker had not received a response from the Chair of the Elections Commission.
In an interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, Shuman, who is also the Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP), said it is not too late for the Commission to reconsider its decision. “I don’t think it is too late at all,” he told this newspaper.
Amid concerns that such a move may infringe on the constitutional responsibility of the Elections Commission, Shuman clarified that the intention is not to usurp GECOM’s authority but rather to boost its integrity.
In further justifying his call, the Deputy Speaker said the 2020 Electoral Crisis, that spanned for five months, together with the 2011 attempt to tamper with the results of the Elections have significantly damaged the image of the Elections Commission – which is expected to be an independent and impartial electoral institution.
He said it is necessary to restore the integrity, credibility and public’s confidence in the Commission that is so desperately needed at this juncture.
Shuman submitted that due to the partisan composition of the Commission, it is highly unlikely that the Commissioners would engage in an objective process. Iterating sentiments expressed in the letter, he said while his confidence in the Chair is unquestionable, the same cannot be said of the Commissioners, though highly qualified and capable as individuals and specialists in their respective fields.
“It would be best to find someone external, in my humble view, who is going to come and conduct that process, even to the point where they offer recommendations to GECOM, and say look, we recommend candidates 1, 2, and 3. And GECOM will still maintain the authority to hire as they see fit. What it does, however, it provides an external eye for putting forth objective recommendations on who would be best suited,” the Deputy Speaker reasoned.
However, in light of its decision on the independent panel, the Commission agreed to have each of the six Commissioners shortlist the applicants for the seven vacant positions, before a final list is determined. The submissions are to be made by next Tuesday (November 16).
Shuman warns that the public would always be suspicious of the Commission’s choice for the top posts. “If you were to pick one of the major ethnic groups, there will be suspicion as to which side of the fence that person may want to swing the Commission,” he posited. He said “whether it is based on facts or not,” the two issues at hand have to with integrity of the Commission, and the public’s perception of it.
Were it up to him though, Shuman said his choice would have been an Indigenous Chief Elections Officer.
“You look at the voting population and the only group that seems to have some degree of independence, that no one could really figure out which side of the fence they are on, are the indigenous people, so why not hire an indigenous person to become the CEO,” he said.
The Deputy Speaker said his recommendations are aligned with the Observers’ reports, all of which called for a revision of a number of processes to ensure an impartial and unbiased Commission.
The Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and the Leader of the Opposition Joseph Harmon had long called for an independent panel to be established to aid in the shortlisting of the candidates.
The positions to be filled are that of the Chief Election Officer, Deputy Chief Election Officer, Assistant Chief Election Officer, Chief Accountant, Legal Officer, Logistics Manager and Civic and Voter Education Manager. Some 490 persons have submitted applications.
However, approximately 20 persons from Guyana, the US, St. Kitts and Jamaica have applied for the Chief Elections Officer position, among them GECOM’s former CEO, Gocool Boodoo; Omar Shariff – former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Presidency; Vishnu Persaud – one of GECOM’s former Public Relations Officers (PROs); GECOM’s Information Technology Manager Aneal Giddings; Attorney-at-Law and Leader of the National Independent Party, Saphier Husain; Leslie Oliver Harrow from Jamaica; Eugene Godfrey Petty from St. Kitts and Dr. Kurt Clarke from the US.
The offices of the CEO and DCEO were made vacant after the Commission fired Keith Lowenfield, the CEO; Roxane Myers, DCEO and Clairmont Minigo, the Returning Officers were fired based on allegations of electoral fraud.