Local Government Elections

With the debate on the 2022 Budget completed and the Approval of the Estimates to be consummated tomorrow, the Government would have executed its mandate to prepare the country for its economic takeoff in its thrust to finally achieve Developed Country status. A legislative foundation had already been laid late last year with the passage of the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) and the Local Content Act.
As such, it is imperative that Government immediately turns its attention to addressing threats to our democratic governance. It must fill lacunae in the Electoral Laws and the staffing of the GECOM Secretariat that were exploited by the APNU/AFC Coalition in their foiled attempt to rig the March 2, 2020 General Elections. While it took the entire democratic world – Caricom, the Commonwealth, the OAS, and the UK, US! EU etc – to head off the PNC’s perfidy, Guyana cannot have its democratic credentials impugned again. AG Nandlall has informed the House that Government would be presenting bills to amend the Representation of the Peoples (ROPA), Elections, and National Registration Acts.
VP Bharrat Jagdeo had pointed out that Government would start with the Local Government Elections (LGE): “We believe [it is crucial] for holding local government elections as a test run, because many of the measures that we are putting in place could then be implemented in the local government reform.”
The LGE have already been delayed because GECOM claimed it could not make the necessary preparations last year when they were due.
These “preparations” include filling a number of vacancies in the GECOM Secretariat occasioned by the then incumbent CEO and DCEO, Reg 4 RO and two other officials committing fraud in their offices and getting fired and charged. The major vacancy of CEO has been filled, and the others should be taken care of shortly. Commissioner Gunraj revealed that the seven-member Commission has already tasked the new CEO with preparing a “roadmap” for the LGE this year.
This would include the preparation of an updated voters’ list. While the Opposition PNC has revived its pre-2020 demand for a house-to-house registration to compile a completely new list, this would necessitate constitutional changes on the right of overseas Guyanese to vote. Because of that onerous hurdle, the PPP has signalled it would prefer the Claims and Objections process that has produced voters’ lists since 2006.
While the details of the line expenditures would be revealed tomorrow, PPP Minister of Local Government, Nigel Dharamlall, revealed in his budget presentation that “in excess of $4.1billion” has been allocated for the LGE. While the Opposition remains “headless” in the absence of an Opposition Leader, Opposition Shadow Local Government MP, Ganesh Mahipal, in his Budget presentation, demanded that the Government conduct the LGE as soon as possible. It would appear that the Opposition and the Government are on all fours as far as the LGE is concerned. It is now up to GECOM to make the necessary preparations, and the CEO has assured that this is his highest priority.
One amendment the Government is seeking to enact is to impose severe penalties of $10M and maximum life imprisonment to dissuade Secretariat officials from engaging in elections’ fraud. Additionally, it wants to close some loopholes and increase administrative efficiencies by dividing the gargantuan Reg 4 into 4 subdivisions, where 3 ROs would tally their SOPS separately, and these would then be totalled for a final vote. This proposal has raised objections from the Opposition, even though there would be absolutely no change in the voting at individual polling stations and the summation of those votes for seat allocation between competing parties.
Other amendments require GECOM to post results from polling stations on its website, and SoPs be returned to the CEO and GECOM Chairman. The polling stations also would not be situated at the sole discretion of the CEO. There are also a number of adjustments to allow more ordered selection and training of Election Day employees and publication of training manuals.
On to the LGE: democracy delayed is democracy denied.