Embassies, civil society reiterate calls for early Local Govt. Elections

[www.kaieteurnewsonline.com] –  The pressure is piling up for Guyana to hold local government elections early with a joint statement from civil society and three embassies yesterday signaling a growing unhappiness over the current situation.

General Secretary for PPP, Clement Rohee

General Secretary for PPP, Clement Rohee

Everything seems to be in place for votes to be cast as early as August 1st, the strong statement said.
It has not been the first time that such has been issued, with the last a year ago.
This time, the British High Commission, Embassy of the United States of America and the High Commission of Canada made it clear that with new laws in place and the elections machinery ready, August 1st seems a very possible time.
“The political parties have reaffirmed their desire to hold local elections and are making campaign preparations.  It is therefore our hope, as the PPP/C, APNU, and AFC pledged in their 2011 election manifestos, that local government elections will be held…”
Also endorsing the statement are the Berbice Chamber of Commerce; Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry; Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Guyana Association of Women Lawyers; Guyana Bar Association, Guyana Manufacturing and Service Association,
Guyana Trades Union Congress, Justice Institute, Private Sector Commission and the Transparency Institute Guyana Inc.
With many of the 65 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) replaced by Interim Management Committees after members either died or passed away, the absence of elections because of a political agreement for reforms has led to an intolerable situation. Corruption and mismanagement have been blamed on the breakdown in infrastructure with garbage and rates and taxes collection highly criticised.
The statement said that one year ago, a similar call for 2013 to be the year in which Guyana would move forward to ensure its citizens benefit from strong and effective local governance was made.
GECOM ready
“While 2013 passed without local government elections being held, significant progress was made to set the stage for these historic elections in 2014.”
The bodies pointed out that four bills establishing a “reinvigorated framework” for local governance were approved by the National Assembly with three receiving Presidential assent.  “Together with the 2010 Local Authorities Act establishing the electoral framework for local elections, the legislative path to elections has been cleared. In anticipation of local government elections, the Guyana Elections Commission has been intensifying its preparations and expanding voter education outreach to familiarize people with the voting process.”
It was also noted that the Ministry of Local Government has been hosting seminars and workshops with stakeholders to promote voter education.
Even the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM) has said it is fully equipped and ready to stage the elections. Already, GECOM has demarcated the boundaries and constituencies in 69 of 71 districts, and each district has been targeted for voter education.
“Once a date for elections is announced, GECOM can begin the statutory steps required by law to hold local government elections. By all accounts, GECOM is well prepared and poised to ensure free, fair and transparent local elections whenever called upon by the government to do so.”
The organizations and embassies also said it recognized the statements of President Donald Ramotar in July that local government elections are “badly needed because many of the problems we face are due to the fact that we did not have local government elections.”
“The PPP/C, APNU, and the AFC have all begun campaigning in many Regions in anticipation of these historic elections. All of this augurs well for 2014 as the year of local government elections.”
The statement yesterday, stressing the importance of elections, said that as international development agencies have long recognized, the tangible benefits of local democracy go far beyond the act of casting a vote.
“Effective and efficient public administration coupled with healthy local governance can drive development efforts.  Local government institutions bring government closer to the people, fostering greater inclusion, civic responsibility, empowerment and participation…”
Strange Opposition
Under the Constitution, local government elections should be held every three years.
The joint statement also pointed out that Commonwealth Charter to which Guyana subscribes refers to an individual’s “inalienable right to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which he or she lives. Parliaments and representatives of local governments and other forms of local governance are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance.”
The call yesterday would come about two weeks after General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Clement Rohee, said that his party will not support the Opposition request to hold Local Government Elections by August 1.
It would also come after the Opposition called for early elections.
According to Rohee, their reasons for not agreeing to the Opposition requests of holding Local Government elections, among other things, is because the power to decide the readiness for such elections resides with GECOM and not with the Opposition.
During a press conference, he said that from his information GECOM is not ready for elections. “We get the distinct impression from our commissioners that they are not ready for local government elections. That’s why we found it strange because APNU also have representatives on the GECOM.”