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Failure to hold local govt elections an international stain on democracy- British envoy

British High Commissioner to Guyana, Andrew Ayre

Britain on Tuesday harshly criticized Guyana for not holding long-overdue local government elections, saying that the South American nation’s democracy profile was under threat and harming its global profile.

“Those democratic gains are under threat. The decision not to have local elections is a stain on Guyana’s international standing.

Not only are the reasons given a clear breach of Guyana’s constitution, they are also a clear breach of the Commonwealth Charter,” said British High Commissioner to Guyana, Andrew Ayre.

Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds, however, dismissed the concerns by the British envoy and mildly signaled that the Guyana government did not want foreign interference in the issue. “On the issue of local government elections,  I thank you for your interest but bearing in mind the occasion this evening I would like to keep this issue local,” he said.  He expressed confidence that the different domestic views on the matter would be eventually resolved.

Article One of the Commonwealth Charter that deals with Democracy states that states that “We recognise the inalienable right of individuals to participate in democratic processes, in particular through free and fair elections in shaping the society in which they live. Governments, political parties and civil society are responsible for upholding and promoting democratic culture and practices and are accountable to the public in this regard. Parliaments and representative local governments and other forms of local governance are essential elements in the exercise of democratic governance. We support the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group  to address promptly and effectively all instances of serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values without any fear or favour.”

In what is considered the strongest ever position from a Western diplomat here on the issue, the United Kingdom (UK) envoy told the Queen’s Birthday reception that it was time that the government of this former British colony keep its 2011 general election campaign promise. “The UK again calls on Guyana’s government to deliver now what it is supposed to do every three years and what is in the manifestos of all three parties ahead of the 2011 elections,” said Ayre.

Local Government elections were last held in 1994.

President Donald Ramotar at the weekend said that his administration had to contemplate whether to hold local government elections or early national elections depending on the impact of the likely blacklisting by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force and its global counterpart watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) because of the failure by Guyana’s National Assembly to pass amendments to the 2009 Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing Terrorism Act. (AML/CFT).  Government has previously refused to hold local government elections, citing bickering in the work of the local government task force that had been revamping the laws. More recently, the President has refused to sign into law a bill that seeks to establish a local government commission to hire and fire key officials. Government has said that it would be unconstitutional for the commission to take away powers vested in the executive, an argument that Elections Commissioner, Vincent Alexander disagrees with. He has said that the constitution provides for the President to delegate powers to individuals and bodies.

While the Prime Minister shrugged off the British High Commissioner’s remarks on the long delayed local government elections, he welcomed his concerns about the failure of the legislature to reach agreement and pass amendments to the AML/CFT.

Britain is among several Western diplomatic missions and local business and civil society organisations that have called for the swift holding of local government elections to replace the town, city and neigbourhood councils that have in many cases virtually collapsed because of death, resignation and migration. In several instances basic duties and services including revenue collection and the improvement of drains, roads and garbage have become extremely deficient.