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“Narco state” possible because of weak campaign financing law- GECOM Chairman

GECOM Chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally

Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Dr. Steve Surujbally on Tuesday insisted that there must be limits on campaign financing or the country ran the risk of being governed or influenced by drug lords.

“It cannot (be brushed aside) because we are looking for trouble because we can have narco governments in place,” he told a a half-day public forum on Local Government Elections that was organized by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI).

Surujubally acknowledged that the task of putting limits on campaign financing would be a “rough one”, partly because the United States (US) Supreme Court recently ruled that doing so would be unconstitutional. The US, Canada and Mexico, he remarked, are major financiers of the 34-nation Organisation of American States (OAS) that has been advocating modern campaign financing legislation in Guyana and other countries in the hemisphere. He added that the British Commonwealth has been also pushing for strict campaign financing here.

With the reformed Local Government laws also making it possible for individuals to contest elections under a mixture of first-pass-the-post and proportional representation, the GECOM Chairman noted the likely rise of narco-politicians.

“If a lot of money is placed into a system, a lot of money from the recipient’s eye but from the donor’s eye small-change, you can theoretically have elected a person who will be part of a narco-state,” he said.

Opposition Leader David Granger attended an OAS symposium on campaign financing in Barbados several months ago.

The GECOM Chairman called for an institutionalized brake on campaign financing, failing which the repercussions would be “very destructive.”

Opposition-nominated GECOM Commissioner, Vincent Alexander said it is not loads of cash that would make the ultimate difference but the integrity of the candidates in small areas who are willing to campaign. “I feel that somebody who has good legs could virtually go door-to-door and the big bucks wouldn’t make the difference if that person has track a record and has good legs and prepared to the leg work,” he added.

Alexander agreed that even candidates in constituencies with electorates of mere hundreds could be bank-rolled but their performance would be the yardstick. “Possible but he is going to be elected. Is he going to perform? Will he be voted for the next time around so that’s a check and balance in that kind of situation,” he said. He said that campaign financing was taboo and it was not one of the mandates of the local government reform task force. 

He observed that there was an apparent absence of political by the 65-member National Assembly to deal with the inadequate laws on campaign financing and spending. The only reference is in the Representation of the Peoples Act that states that all parties are required to submit expenses to the Chief Elections Officer. However, there is no provision for penalties. Demerara Waves Online News was told that no party abides by that law.

Surujbally and Alexander were responding to Co-Chair of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), Mike Mc Cormack who asked whether the new local government system would include rules on campaign financing to avoid candidates in mainly the smaller constituencies from being bought out.