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-GECOM requires consensual management
In my Future Notes (SN: 02/06/2018) , I argued that the Carter formula for appointing members of the Guyana Elections Commission was simply the localized application of a mechanism that has been in existence for centuries. What it sought to accomplish went beyond its being neutral: the proposers were trying to establish legitimacy by balancing the interests of the contending parties in a fashion that would provide a broadly acceptable institution and outcomes. At the time, Mr. E.B. John brought to notice the Carter Center’s elections 2006 observer mission recommendation that ‘GECOM should be independent from the government and be accountable to and receive funding from the National Assembly. The independence of GECOM from the government’s administration will bolster the Commission’s credibility and independence.’
In response, I said that the Carter Center-type recommendation is common and suited to a normal political context; the 2006 report was merely bemoaning that in the 10 years since the recommendation had been made, Guyana was still deviating from the ideal. I surmised that this disappointment ‘was rooted in an uncontextualized idealism,’ for the conditions that led to the present compromise formula still existed and had become worse in 2018. So much so, that a positive response to John’s concern was to be found in his lament that is still routinely voiced in 2022. ‘Is it then that we are all so embedded in the psyche of division, divisiveness, partisanship, that in 2018 it is too late for the recommended change to be addressed?’
When you consider our context, in which among the 18 persons presented to him, former President David Granger was unable to find one acceptable person to be the chair of GECOM and then felt it necessary to proceed to make a unilateral choice that undermined even the compromise formula that existed, you may then come to appreciate that it is not ‘too late’ but not ever possible that the ideal type of managerial constructs can ever produce, in ethnically divided societies such as Guyana, the level of political certainty/legitimacy required by the major political actors! But hold on, Guyana is too politically unusual for our story to end with the inappropriateness of the idealist model!
In 2021, a quarrel broke out between the government and the opposition about the appointment of the new chief executive officer (CEO) of GECOM, and in a letter to the press, Mr. Vincent Alexander, one of GECOM’s PNC-orientated commissioners, made a case that GECOM, inclusive of the chairperson, constitutes ‘a dysfunctional and corrupt system’ that operated in an untransparent and biased manner in its appointment of the CEO. The problem with the present structure is that on most controversial issues the chairperson becomes the commission and if that person somehow falls under the permanent influence of one party, bias and political dissension follow hand in hand. Given the ethnic nature of Guyana, there has always been this simmering concern.
As I have indicated before, Vincent proffered a solution, but it took us essentially nowhere. He thought that what was required was ‘a neutral panel of human (resource) practitioners’ but failed to indicate what appointment criteria would have been acceptable to the contesting ethnic parties, who would have chosen the neutral human resources panel that would have been acceptable to the ‘corrupt’ GECOM or the even more ‘dysfunctional and corrupt’ politicians!
Not even a leap year of prayers, fasting, reflections and moralizing will make the politicians relinquish the leverage they have over GECOM, so like with most important political in Guyana what is required is positive action and this suggests that we need to focus differently. As suggested above, the neutrality embedded in the idealist model is above all intended to produce legitimacy and peace but it is not the only means of doing so, and perhaps in our context can never do so! Here the consensual approach that includes various types of co-leadership – institutionally by having two more leaders or process-wise by giving a veto, etc. over certain issues until agreement can be reached – appears a better candidate.
When the leader of the PNC Mr. Aubrey Norton recently suggested that the vote be withdrawn from the chairperson of GECOM as part of the constitutional/electoral reform process, he was suggesting that consensus be arrived at on all the issues that come under the purview of commissioners. Whether or not this is the best form of consensual management for GECOM will require much more thought and discourse, but it is certainly on the correct track. There are many successful organisations in which leadership is shared and the different skills and approaches lead to better decisions making and smarter solutions.
Of course, this kind of decision-making leaves space for disagreement and thus, on some occasions somewhat slower decisions, but around electoral issues one must be prepared to allow time rather than court disaster. For example, in the more consensually orientated Western Europe countries in 2011 Belgium holds the world record by taking some 589 days to negotiate/form a government but the average time was about 28 days. GECOM is an important site of political activities and conflict: a consensual approach will bolster democratic rule.