Govt receiving feedback on RoPA amendments – Teixeira
…says responses remain low
The Guyana Government is still open to feedback on its proposed changes to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) as well as recommendations on how to further strengthen the legislation.
According to Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira, they continue to receive comments and recommendations from persons. She explained that those that were submitted over the past three months are already being examined to ascertain whether they can be included amongst the amendments to the Act.
“I haven’t closed off the comments and feedback… But we’re looking at the amendments that came in. We’re looking back at the changes that we made with the proposed amendments and comments [that came in] to see how those fit in and whether we should amend the draft Bill based on the comments received,” the Minister noted.
Teixeira indicated that there is no timeline as yet as to when they will wrap up this process and proceed with the next stage, that is, to prepare a final draft of the RoPA amendments to submit to the National Assembly.
However, the Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister explained that feedback has not been as forthcoming as anticipated.
So far, the only political party that made submissions was A New and Unity Guyana (ANUG) – which is one of the three small parties that comprise the Joinder List that currently holds an Opposition seat in the National Assembly.
Proposed amendments were also received from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). However, Teixeira revealed that last week, Opposition-nominated Commissioner at GECOM, Charles Corbin submitted some comments through the elections body.
She pointed out that there has been no official feedback from the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition itself.
Nevertheless, there has also been feedback from Guyanese overseas as well as individuals living here; small civil society groups, the Guyana Consumers Association and the Private Sector Commission (PSC).
“Those are being considered now… There is a group of us working on this including the Attorney General Chambers. So, we have brought all the feedback we’ve got and there is a team looking at this; looking at these comments and looking at those that are acceptable, those that may be corrections, those that might be policy changes that we have to consider. But this is a team effort,” Minister Teixeira asserted.
At a press conference last month, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo reiterated the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration’s committed to working with stakeholders including all political parties to strengthen the laws surrounding the conduct of elections in order to remove discretion and the room for capricious behaviour by any elected official.
Jagdeo said this assurance was given to United States Deputy Assistant Secretary for Caribbean Affairs and Haiti, Barbara Feinstein, who had visited Guyana two weeks ago.
“We will have to have the policy discussions to see which of the amendments are useful, that would enhance transparency and accountability on the part of GECOM. And trust me, if they will do that and they don’t confer an advantage to any political party, we’re open to inclusion on the final draft. So, we’re going through that process now,” the Vice President told reporters.
In an effort to prevent the recurrence of the historic March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections that resulted in a five-month political impasse caused by blatant rigging attempts, the PPP/C Government last November released a host of proposed changes to RoPA for public consultation before the document is finalised and taken to the National Assembly.
It had indicated that it wanted to have the widest possible engagement with stakeholders including the various political parties on the proposed amendments to RoPA.
An overhaul of the country’s electoral laws can see the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) at the Election Commission facing as much as life imprisonment for committing fraud, while others can similarly face hefty fines and jail time for any related offence.
The draft updated electoral laws also outline a clear process for the request of a recount, including empowering the Chairman of GECOM to grant that request.
Under the proposed laws, the CEO must post the District Tabulation Forms on the Commission’s website as soon as he receives them from the Returning Officers.
Other persons involved in the electoral process can face fines as high as $10 million, and can equally be jailed for life if they breach any provision as outlined in the proposed updated Act.
The immediate former CEO of GECOM, Keith Lowenfield; his Deputy Roxanne Myers, and the Returning Officer for Region Four at the last polls, Clairmont Mingo, were terminated last August for their role in efforts to derail democracy at the 2020 elections. The trio is also currently before the court on a raft of electoral fraud-related charges.
While the firing of these three senior officials and a general overhaul at the Elections Secretariat were met with much satisfaction by stakeholders, it is widely agreed that much more needs to be done to restore public confidence in GECOM especially as it gears up to hold Local Government Elections (LGE) this year.