The GPA Elections

Dear Editor,
A little over a decade ago, members of the media were invited to the launch of the ambitiously conceived Independent Media Association of Guyana (IMAG), the organizational objective of which was “to collaborate with media workers in promoting professional & ethical standards, safeguarding and promoting the rights & privileges of the media in all Guyana”.
You can still find the Facebook page of IMAG if you do a search for its full name; nothing besides that remains.
For those of us involved (actually and purportedly) in truly independent media work at the time, IMAG was a laughable, ironically-titled attempt by the then Government, or at the very least entities aligned to it, to establish a press organization that would perhaps be more sympathetic to it than the established Guyana Press Association (GPA) was. I do not believe the current administration has any such intention, because I have seen no evidence of such.
My position then, as it is until now, is simple: While the Guyana Press Association is an NGO with no statutory exclusivity under the laws of Guyana, and no reasonable expectation of exclusivity by convention, its fundamental establishment and the constitutional rules under which it is supposed to operate not only qualify it for de facto representation of best journalistic practices in this country, but would render any attempt at establishing a parallel organization superfluous at best.
That established, the current elections process of the GPA threatens to undermine the institution as a credible arbiter in an already extremely compromised civil society environment.
On February 26, 2020 – a week before an election that was already a year behind schedule, having been triggered by a successful no-confidence vote – the Guyana Press Association sent out a release chastising GECOM for its lack of transparency and timeliness in providing critical information on the electoral process:
“The GPA calls on all election observation missions to take note of the disservice being meted out to the populace by GECOM by allowing claims, accusations, and rumours to fester. If not addressed with a sense of urgency and professionalism, GECOM must regard itself as a willing participant in any unfortunate reaction.”
Now, three years later, and days before its own election, the GPA itself is withholding critical electoral information, not only from the public, not only from its general membership, but from Neil Marks, the sole challenger to incumbent President Nazima Raghubir. As covered in the Stabroek News article “Voters’ list visibility in contention as GPA election looms” (SN, May 12), with regard to Marks requesting a copy of the voters’ list for the upcoming elections: “Marks said that he had independently written to the executive requesting the list but received no direct response. Meanwhile, when contacted yesterday, Raghubir referred to the statement by the executive.”
Notably, none of the GPA’s statements on its own pending polls, including basic information on the process, has made it to its own Facebook page, conveniently escaping real-time scrutiny and inquiry, something that can only be described as a deliberate and egregious opacity.
And yet, all of this pales in comparison to a far more serious issue – the basic constitutionality of Raghubir’s reelection bid, and the constitutional and ethical crisis in which it places the organization if that bid is successful. Here is what the GPA Constitution says with regard to the membership and tenure of its Council of Management:
“15.1 A Council of Management shall be elected to serve for a period of two years at the Annual General Meeting of the Association.
“15.2. Unless otherwise determined by a General Meeting, the Council shall be constituted of the following:
Honorary Treasurer
Honorary Assistant Treasurer
Four voting members of the Association
“15.3. The President shall not hold office for more than three consecutive terms.”
The incumbent Council was first elected in January of 2018, five and a half years ago. The first scheduled election after that should have been in January 2020, and the maximum tenure of Raghubir’s presidency, presuming she was reelected twice in succession (2020 and 2022), should have been up to January 2024. The argument that appears to be floating around is that the COVID pandemic (which did not exist in January 2020) was the reason for the GPA failing to hold constitutionally mandated elections within the specific timeframe for two cycles.
While the argument of a force majeure may suffice to accommodate that failure, it does not suffice as a rationale for the effective extension of Raghubir’s tenure to what would potentially be nine and a half years. This is an absurdity that flies blatantly against the plain meaning of the letter, as well as the spirit, of the GPA Constitution. In any basic understanding of that meaning, no GPA President should serve beyond six years, with articles 15.1 and 15.3 of the Constitution meant to be read conjunctively.
Constitutionally-enshrined term limits constitute standard best practice governance, whether we are speaking about the presidency of a country or the presidency of an entity that purports to hold the presidency of a country accountable.
The undercurrents of the GPA elections have caused a partisan stir online, with supporters of Team Marks and Team Raghubir throwing accusations of bias and clandestine control against each other. All that, in my humble estimation, is moot. What is at stake here is whether, post-elections, the Association can credibly call either Government or Opposition out on fundamental issues of good governance, something that it cannot do if the current President remains in office beyond January 2024 under any circumstance. There are only two ethical and likely legal pathways out of this crisis, with the first being fairly easy; the incumbent stands down and allows Marks and any other would-be candidate to finish the race. The second is to contest the race with the explicit commitment that, if she wins, she would demit office in January of 2024, after holding an election in which she is not a candidate, allowing her to serve her constitutionally warranted six years, and preserving the spirit and letter of the term restriction. Nothing constitutionally prevents her from being part of the Management Council from 2024 to 2026, and seeking reelection again in 2026.
The current absurdly anonymous voters in the upcoming elections do not have two candidates before them; what they have is the preservation of the already strained integrity of the organization versus the removal of any vestige of the sort of institutional integrity the organization needs to act as a bona fide representative of the interests of the Fourth Estate.

Ruel Johnson