GECOM Secretariat’s March 2020 election date proposal “shocking”– PSC Chairman
…questions sudden lack of efficiency in election machinery
…says a prolonged ‘caretaker’ Govt bad for business
Pull quote: “It’s not good for business. It’s not good for development. And I am shocked at GECOM, that an organisation that was once highly efficient and well organised would be demonstrating this level of [inefficiency]. I still think the Chair of GECOM will make the right decision. She did promise that she will abide by the law and the
Constitution” – PSC Chairman Gerry Gouveia
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Secretariat’s proposal on Friday that elections be held in March 2020, more than a year after the Government was defeated by a No-Confidence Motion, has been met with shock by the head of the umbrella representative of the local Private Sector.
According to Private Sector Commission (PSC) Chairman, retired Captain Gerry Gouveia, this recent pronouncement by GECOM’s Secretariat is particularly surprising considering the fact that when they met with the GECOM Secretariat last week, no mention was made of elections in 2020.
“I am stunned. We met and had a very cordial meeting with GECOM. A very clear path was [articulated]. We discussed a lot of things. Nowhere in all of that was there any discussion of March. So I’m stunned.”
Gouveia also expressed concern over the likely effects on the economic climate and business environment. This is considering the prolonged political uncertainty an election delayed until March 2020 will cause. However, he retained some optimism that GECOM Chair, retired Justice Claudette Singh, would make the right decision and uphold the Constitution of Guyana.
“I don’t think it augurs well for Guyana. Everybody is just waiting for elections. We want our country to be managed by a Government with full powers. Not a country that is operating at half or quarter power,” Gouveia said.
“It’s not good for business. It’s not good for development. And I am shocked at GECOM, that an organisation that was once highly efficient and well organised would be demonstrating this level of [inefficiency]. I still think the Chairman of GECOM will make the right decision. She did promise that she will abide by the law and the Constitution.”
After a more than four-hour-long meeting on Friday, both Opposition and Government-aligned Commissioners disclosed to media operatives that this is one among several timelines proposed by the Secretariat.
“We have now at least four proposals from the Secretariat which suggest that elections will be held in March of next year,” Commissioner Robeson Benn stated, noting that the Opposition Commissioners are opposed to that suggestion.
Government-aligned Commissioner Vincent Alexander confirmed that March 2020 is one of the dates discussed during the meeting.
“The document which was before us, the proposition was March. But that document is under revision,” Alexander explained.
“So, I would prefer to not be specific about a date. But indeed, the document before us did say March ,” he added.
According to the Commissioners, one of the activities proposed to be undertaken by GECOM during that period is the printing of new national identification cards. However, Commissioner Bibi Shadick contended that such an initiative is unnecessary.
She pointed out that ID cards are not needed to vote, as any other form of identification, such as a passport, is accepted. In lieu of any such documents, she said voters can sign an oath at the polling stations.
Asked what other activities GECOM proposed to undertake from now until March 2020, Shadick did not go into details but stated “they have a lot of things they want to do”.
On the other hand, Commissioner Alexander explained that the March 2020 timeframe is to allow GECOM to conduct “administrative activities”.
“…How many days before you give people notice for them to prepare the nomination list? how many days to publish the OLE (Official List of Electors)?” Alexander said are some of the activities to be undertaken by GECOM before elections are held.
Opposition Commissioner Sase Gunraj argued that the timeline could be pulled back to November 2019.
The Commissioners are expected to meet again shortly to further discuss the March 2020 proposal and explore other options.
Article 106 (6) of the Constitution states: “The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.”
Meanwhile, Article 106 (7) goes on to say: “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
A No-Confidence Motion was passed against the Government since December 21 of last year. However, elections were not held and there was no resignation. Instead, the Government went through several levels of court, unsuccessfully arguing that the No-Confidence Motion was not validly passed.
At the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the final court had thrown out the Government’s case and had handed down judgement saying that when the No-Confidence Motion was passed on December 21, 2019, Article 106 of the Constitution had immediately been activated. In addition, the court had noted that the provisions of the Article were clear.
Bound by law
CCJ President Adrian Saunders himself had noted that GECOM “too must abide by the provisions of the Constitution”. He went on to point out that elections should have been held on March 21, 2019, following the December passage of the Opposition-sponsored motion but that process was on “pause” pending the legal proceedings.
That process, he added, however, was no longer on pause following the court’s June 18, 2019, ruling which upheld the validity of the No-Confidence Motion and thus triggering the need for fresh elections.
Instead of immediately starting serious preparations to hold elections in the shortest possible time, however, GECOM proceeded to carry out House-to-House Registration based on the orders of unilaterally appointed former Chairman, retired Justice James Patterson.
While that process was ultimately stopped by his successor, the decision to merge the new data from House-to-House and to prioritise the printing of identification cards, instead of seeking to have elections held as soon as possible, has been criticised by People’s Progressive Party (PPP) nominated GECOM Commissioners as part of the Government’s delaying tactics.
In the 2000 Esther Perreira election petition case, then Justice Claudette Singh had ordered that elections must be held by March 31, 2001. Particularly, Justice Singh had ruled that the requirements for voters to have an ID card for the 1997 election was a breach of Articles 59 and 159 of the Constitution and that the elections were null and void.
The PPP has, therefore, contended that prioritising ID cards over early elections is a case of putting the cart before the horse.