(www.stabroeknews.com) The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) yesterday reiterated its readiness to hold local government elections once it is called on by government to do so and several of its senior officials explained to stakeholders the system under which the next such elections will be held.
The Savannah Suite of the Pegasus Hotel was packed as members of the public and private sector turned up to listen to the GECOM officials during a seminar organised by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI).
But, even as the likes of Steve Surujbally, GECOM Chairman; Keith Lowenfield, GECOM Chief Elections Officer (CEO) and Vincent Alexander, GECOM Commissioner, delivered presentations on Guyana’s local government framework and the processes to be undertaken once elections are called, at least one member of the business community pressed for real progress.
Businessman Raymond Alli yesterday told the GECOM officials and the seminar’s organisers that he appreciated the explanations but was hoping to hear that a date for local government elections has been decided on, or that a mechanism will be set up to arrive at an imminent date for same.
He noted the time that has elapsed since the last elections, and said that if something is not done to convince those responsible to hold local government elections there might be a similar seminar in ten years for the same purpose with local government elections not yet held. .
Former GCCI President Clinton Urling explained to Alli that the seminar was not intended to have GECOM announce a date for elections or offer a mechanism to arrive at such a date, as it is not in the agency’s remit to do this. Urling reminded that the GECOM officials were invited to enhance the public’s knowledge of Guyana’s local government system, as part of its efforts to contribute to public education.
Alexander echoed Urling’s sentiments, although he did point out that members of the business community, such as Alli, are the main contributors to the election campaigns of the members of government who have the authority to call for local government elections.
Alexander suggested that the business community is therefore best placed to control when local government elections are held by pressuring those they financed into positions of authority.
Meanwhile, he chastised government for its continued failure to call local government elections. Pointing to Articles 71 (1), (2) and 78 (b) of Guyana’s constitution Alexander argued that the law makes it clear that local government elections, more than providing a mechanism for administration in local authority areas, is supposed to be part of the country’s political architecture and is a crucial contributor to development.
Highlighting explanations by several government officials on why elections have not and cannot yet be held, Alexander said the elections are not to be held at the discretion of government, but in accordance with the provision of the Local Authorities Elections Act.
According to the Act, local government elections are to be held every three years. It is the responsibility of the local government minister to determine a date, every three years, on which he wishes elections to be held.
If the date is not realistic then GECOM may suggest one it sees as more realistic. But, if GECOM is able to make the necessary preparations in time the agency makes the necessary preparations, including facilitation of a claims and objections period. GECOM then prepares the ballots, identifies polling stations, and takes all other necessary steps to hold the elections.
President Donald Ramotar, Acting Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker and Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, in his capacity as General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party, have all given various reasons as to why local government elections cannot be held as yet.
Alexander also addressed the importance of the local government bills passed last year, specifically the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, the only of the four which was not assented to. This specific legislation, Alexander told attendees, is intended to transplant powers currently held by the Local Government Minister with regard to the administration of local authorities into the hands of a commission.
Ramotar has refused to sign the bill on the basis that it is attempting to place executive power into the hands of the commission and is therefore unconstitutional. Alexander though, as he has done before, ridiculed this excuse, arguing that government’s executive status does not mean that it must be involved in the activities of constitutional bodies.
One of the attendees suggested to Alexander and his fellow presenters that the current City Hall stalemate might not have started, or would not have persisted for so long if a local government commission was functioning.
Lowenfield said that local government elections, whenever they are held, will only take place in Guyana’s six municipal and sixty-five NDC areas. These elections will be held under a mixed Proportional Representation (PR) and First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system.
Further, each local authority has been divided into a number of constituencies equal to half the seats on each local authority council. These seats can be contested by individuals who are unaligned and unaffiliated with political parties, although persons who are supported by political parties can also contest.
For an individual to vie for a seat which represents a particular constituency he/she must first be registered in the area and be a resident. This is the FFP aspect of the elections. The remaining seats will only be contested by political parties and other groups which meet the outlined criteria.