No election matters on parliamentary agenda

…sitting set for April 26

As the coalition Government prepares to return to the National Assembly next week following a hiatus pending the outcome of the cases filed against the Opposition’s No-Confidence Motion in the local courts, there is nothing listed on the parliamentary agenda regarding funding for the continuation of preparations for elections.
Following the Appeal Court’s ruling that the motion was invalidly passed, President David Granger had said that Government will still continue with preparations for General and Regional Elections and ensure that the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM) is in a state of readiness to hold polls, even as they await a final decision from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) before which the matter is currently being deliberated. “We are going to go back to Parliament and make requests to ensure that GECOM has everything it needs. We are committed to having clean elections, credible elections in this country and as I said, I will engage GECOM to ensure that the request made to me by the Chairman is satisfied,” President Granger had told reporters last month.
However, this commitment is not reflected in the parliamentary agenda, which was sent out on Wednesday.
Following the Head of State’s commitment, Government spokesperson, Minister of State Joseph Harmon had subsequently explained that the upcoming sitting, which was initially announced as April 11, was not to exclusively deal with funding for the elections body. In fact, he had outlined that there was a process to follow before the matter can be brought in the National Assembly for approval.
Since the Court of Appeal’s ruling on March 22 that the No-confidence Motion was invalidly passed on December 21, 2018, because it required an “absolute” majority of 34 votes, calls have been mounting from various stakeholder bodies for the elections body not to abandon plans to prepare for polls so that it is ready whenever elections are due.

Prior to last month’s ruling, GECOM had indicated that it cannot hold elections before the March deadline and has voted to do house-to-house registration, which will conclude in November. In fact, GECOM Chairman, Justice James Patterson, in a letter to the Head of State informed him that polls cannot be held before late November 2019.
Justice Patterson explained in the correspondence that since the elections body is continuing with its normal work programme, that is, the holding of house-to-house registration, it will need some $3.5 billion to host elections and as such, “no election date should be contemplated less than five months after these funds are placed at the disposal of and under the control of GECOM”.
Meanwhile, GECOM has already rolled out its 2019 work programme, commencing with training for the house-to-house registration expected in June. However, legal proceedings have been filed against GECOM and Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, to restrain them from going ahead with the registration which could see overseas-based Guyanese being disenfranchised from voting.
Nevertheless, with regards to the agenda for the April 26 sitting of the National Assembly, the Interception of Communication (Amendment) Bill 2019 – Bill No 1/2019 is among several bills for Introduction and First Reading.
The Act, which deals with wiretapping and the interception, acquisition and disclosure of data from protected communications, is seeking to include additional grounds for such interceptions.
However, even as Government prepares for the recommencement of parliamentary sitting, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Opposition has since indicated that they will not participate in any of the National Assembly sittings until the Caribbean Court of Justice rules on its challenge of the Appeal Court’s decisions.
Lawyers representing Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo are asking the regional court to restore the ruling of the chief justice, who upheld the passage of the No-confidence Motion with a 33 majority. Those hearings are scheduled to be heard in the coming weeks.