Attorney predicts additional abuse of State resources for elections
…says GECOM needs to “get up” and work
By Samuel Sukhnandan
Immediately after the No-confidence Motion was passed in the National Assembly and following the High Court’s ruling in the matter, the coalition Government has upped its political campaigning, although President David Granger is yet to announce a date for the constitutionally mandated General and Regional Elections.
Local political analysts and commentators have also taken note of the frequent travel of Government Ministers to various parts of the country, including the hinterland region.
This point to the fact that Guyana is still in need of a modern piece of legislation that will cater for campaign finance for each political party, whether that party is in
Government or not.
Outspoken attorney and chartered accountant, Christopher Ram told Guyana Times on Monday that it is clear that the current Administration is utilising State resources to fund their political campaign.
“That is a misuse of public State funds and there is a law on campaign financing – the Representation of the Peoples Act has provisions on it. The Government is abusing the law and State resources,” he added.
In Chapter 1:03 Part XIII of the Act titled “Election Expenses”, a limit is placed on personal campaign expenses to GY$25,000 per candidate and a maximum sum of GY$50,000 multiplied by a maximum number of 53 from a total number of 65 candidates for each contesting political party. The Guyana exchange rate in 1990 was GY$45:US$1. It is presently GY$200: US$1.
And according to Section 120 (1) of the amended Act, following elections, political parties’ election agents have 35 days in which to submit financial returns to the Chief Elections Officer, disclosing on behalf of candidates and their parties, all payments made by the party’s election agent, amounts of personal expenses paid by each candidate, all disputed and unpaid claims, all monies, securities, and those received for the conduct of the elections, the names of donors and contributors, among others.
However, since the enactment of these regulations (Act 24 of 1990) they have neither been observed by contesting political parties nor enforced by the Chief Elections Officer. Ram said therefore this could lead to social, political and economic instabilities in society.
“GECOM should be drawing it to their attention. They need to get up and do some work. GECOM is the elections regulator in this country… I am not sure that the Chief Executive Officer (Keith Lowenfield) or the Chairman (retired Justice James Patterson) is aware of that, but there are provisions,” he opined.
Asked whether he thinks there is need for a more modern legislation to guide campaign financing in Guyana, the commentator told Guyana Times that there is always need for a more modern legislation but “they first have to comply with what exists within the Representation of the Peoples Act.”
The Carter Centre had recommended the implementation of campaign financing laws and even prior to that, the Alliance For Change (AFC) was pushing for the implementation of the laws; however, after years in Government, the party and its coalition partner are yet to make a step in that direction.
In its final report on the 2011 General Election, the Carter Centre said the need to create legislation to cater for campaign financing was important and even reiterated that in its 2015 report.
“To ensure realisation of the right and opportunity to be elected, legal reform is necessary to improve campaign finance laws. Legislation should be strengthened to routinely require disclosure of contributions and expenditures. Consideration also should be given to establishing reasonable limits on donations and expenditures to ensure that the free choice of voters is not undermined or the democratic process distorted by disproportionate expenditures on behalf of any candidate or party. A monitoring and enforcement body with oversight authority of compliance with campaign finance regulations would also be a positive contribution to Guyanese politics,” the report stated.
Additionally, the report stated that Guyana’s legal framework for elections was silent in the area of registration and operation of political parties; hence, the reason why legislation is needed to establish clear requirements for the registration and operation of political parties that would support the freedom of association and promote broad multiethnic parties that could represent citizen interests in governance.
One of the co-founders of the AFC, Sheila Holder, who wrote a report on ‘Political parties and campaign financing in Guyana’ was passionate about getting the issue addressed through the drafting of legislation. In that report she revealed that incumbent Governments in Guyana have an unfair advantage over opponents when it comes to them having access to finance for their political campaigns.