Way cleared for holding of Local Government Elections on June 12

…as Chief Justice throws out APNU’s challenge to Local Authority Areas

With APNU’s challenge to the change in the boundaries of 37 constituencies in 19 Local Authority Areas being dismissed by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, SC, on Wednesday, the way is now cleared for the long overdue Local Government Elections (LGE) to be held on June 12.
APNU’s Chief Scrutineer, Carol Smith-Joseph, in what was described by the Chief Justice as a belated application, had contended that it was the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) that made the changes and that same contravened Article 72 of the Constitution of Guyana as well as Section 3 (1) (a) and (b) of the Local Authorities (Elections) Act.
She had petitioned for the LGE to be postponed until GECOM performed its functions in accordance with the law.
However, after examining the relevant statutes, Justice George, in her ruling, concluded that it is the Local Government and Regional Development Minister who must be guided by Article 72, and not GECOM. The subject minister is Nigel Dharamlall.
“So, GECOM is not concerned with division into Local Authority Areas, as Mr [Lyndon] Amsterdam suggested, nor is it establishing or changing boundaries. The Local Authority Areas are identified by the minister, and it is the electoral divisions within these Local Authority Areas that GECOM can combine or subdivide to form constituencies,” held Justice George.
Amsterdam is Smith-Joseph’s lawyer.
Article 72 empowers Parliament to enact legislation to divide Guyana into regions, sub-regions, and other sub-divisions as it deems fit for organising Local Government Organs, she said, adding that a distinction has to be made between Local Government Organs and the constituencies.
As it relates to the former, she said Parliament made provision for this in Section 4 of the Local Democratic Organs Act, which provides for the establishment of Local Government Areas.
She continued, “By Section 4 (1), the minister is empowered to divide Guyana as he deems fit” into 10 regions, and in a like manner, may divide a region into sub-regions, a sub-region into neighbourhoods, and a neighbourhood into People’s Cooperative Units.
The establishment of the constituencies would have to abide by the provisions regarding the number of seats and councillors the minister determines for the Local Authority Area.”

Not GECOM’s role
According to the Chief Justice, an order gazetted in February revealed that it was the minister who determined the number of Local Authority Areas and the number of councillors by increasing or decreasing their numbers. GECOM, she noted, had to respond to that order, because it was obliged to ensure that the constituencies matched the number of councillors that the minister had determined for each Local Authority Area.
“Therefore, it is not GECOM that has increased or decreased the number of councillors or council members for the Local Authority Areas and thereby caused an increase or decrease in the number of constituencies. [Smith-Joseph’s] assertion that it was GECOM who did so is incorrect.”
APNU had contended that, in making the changes, GECOM blatantly disregarded the criteria and procedures for the demarcation of constituencies that it had previously used.
To this end, Opposition-nominated GECOM Commissioner Vincent Alexander had said that the demarcation process entails party representatives and registration officials going out into the fields to agree on the boundaries; however, GECOM would have the final decision.
Alexander had filed an Affidavit in Support of Smith-Joseph’s application,
but Justice George said that Article 72 does not outline the criteria GECOM must use in deciding what electoral divisions to divide or combine in order to form constituencies in the Local Authority Areas as established by the ministerial order. In dismissing Smith-Joseph’s application, she ruled that there was no evidence to suggest that there has been a breach of the applicable provisions which speak to the supervision of elections by GECOM.
The Chief Scrutineer’s contention that the changes would be unfair to her party was rejected by the Chief Justice. “That is asking the court to engage in partisan politics, and that cannot be countenanced…there is no evidence to support this ground…it amounted to an opinion.”
For example, Smith-Joseph averred that in the town of Mabaruma, two additional constituencies have been created with a consequential increase in the number of councillors by two. This, she said, resulted in the council now having 14 members instead of the original 12.
Similarly, she said that the number of councillors for Hauraruni/Yarrowkabra has been reduced from eight to six; again, this was consequent to the order issued by the minister.

$250,000 costs
An unsuccessful Smith-Joseph has to pay $250,000 in costs to GECOM, which was listed as a respondent in her application. GECOM was represented by its in-house counsel, Kurt DaSilva.
Nominations Day was held on April 17, and saw parties or organisations/ groups or individuals running at LGE making their way to a designated location set by GECOM, where their representatives submitted their List of Candidates, as well as signed on to the required documents, such as a code of conduct, in order to contest the elections.
Members of the Joint Services will vote on June 2.
Local Government Elections were initially scheduled for March 13, but disagreements over constituencies and how the voters’ list was to be extracted had caused a holdup.
LGEs are constitutionally due every two years, and were to be held at the end of 2022, but GECOM was without a Chief Election Officer and could not have prepared to host the elections. GECOM, a constitutional body, was allocated $5.2B in the 2023 National Budget to carry out its functions. (G1)