…as Commissioner refutes “rosy” picture painted by Minister
Contrary to the recent comments emanating from Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan — that preparation for upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE) is proceeding apace without a Chairman being in place at the Guyana Elections Commission – it has turned out that all is not well at that national election agency.
GECOM Commissioner and attorney-at-law Sase Gunraj, in debunking Minister Bulkan’s assertion, has said the commissioners are being kept in the dark on various critical aspects of GECOM; among which are how the commission’s budget is being spent, and details on the audit that was done by the Audit Office of Guyana. That audit has revealed a number of fiscal infractions, but the accounting officers remain in place at that agency.
“The Minister is obviously arrogating unto himself responsibility for reporting on proceedings at GECOM when clearly that is outside of his domain,” Gunraj has expressed. “He is in no position to report on developments at GECOM. And even if he has received an update,” Gunraj added, “he is receiving updates over and above what Commissioners of GECOM are receiving, even though we are persons who are entitled to that information.”
Gunraj blames this state of affairs on the absence of a Chairman for GECOM, which he says is also preventing meetings from being held to provide updates from being given to the constitutionally entitled Commissioners.
“Whichever option it is, it clearly does not auger well for the integrity of the process to have a Government functionary commenting on the functioning of a constitutional body which has a specific non-partisan function,” Commissioner Gunraj has expressed.
“I can tell you that, without a chairman, (GECOM) cannot have meetings; and in the absence of those meetings, (the commissioners) have not been receiving updates on anything that is going on at GECOM. (There has been) absolutely no periodic updates on the finances of GECOM, (and) nothing on the operations side or the audit,” the attorney-at-law has stated.
Gunraj has been one of three Opposition party representatives on the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) since 2015.
Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan, in an interview with state media last week, had said there is enough time to appoint a chairman, and in the meantime GECOM is functioning well without a Chairman. He had said: “The absence of a chairman is not affecting the work of GECOM.”
Ship without a captain
GECOM has been left headless after the retirement of its long-time Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, earlier this year. The task of replacing him has since been a contentious exercise, with President David Granger continuously rejecting nominees for the post.
As required by the Constitution of Guyana, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had submitted to President Granger a first list of six nominees from which to choose a person for the post of GECOM Chairman, but that list was rejected. He had, last April, submitted a second list of six nominees, but that second list was also rejected. He is preparing to submit a third list in this regard.
President Granger had, in early January 2017, deemed the first list “unacceptable” because none of the nominees was a judge, retired judge, or eligible to be appointed a judge.
Businessman and engineer Marcel Gaskin had, in March of this year, moved to the High Court to challenge the constitutionality of President Granger’s reasoning behind his rejection of the list of nominees.
Gaskin, also the brother of the Business Minister Dominic Gaskin, had asked the court to determine whether Jagdeo’s list of nominees was indeed not “fit and proper,” as President Granger had declared.
Last month, Chief Justice Roxane George, SC, overruled the President’s interpretation of the Constitution regarding the appointment of a chairman for GECOM, finding that there is no particular preference for the appointment of persons within the Judiciary.
In her determination, Justice George found that there was no valid argument to support the idea that the GECOM Chairman should be a judge, former judge, or person eligible to be a judge, and had noted that persons from each category are equally eligible for the post.
However, in an issued statement after the ruling, the applicant, Marcel Gaskin, highlighted that the acting Chief Justice went on to address the proviso to Article 161 (2), which applies to the instance of the Opposition Leader failing to submit a list.