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Local Govt Elections: GECOM Chairman discards concerns by PPP Commissioners

GECOM Chairman, Steve Surujbally

Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, Dr. Steve Surujbally on Monday debunked claims by the three ruling party-nominated commissioners that the local government elections machinery was rusty and could lead to disenfranchisement.

Surujbally insisted that the commission was “fully prepared and committed” to move into election mode with “immediacy” whenever the Local Government Minister issues an order after consulting with GECOM.

In terms of actual preparations for local government elections , the Commission Chairman said they already have a work plan that caters for 180 days from the date of the ministerial order. This timeframe is largely a result of the sequential statutory requirements and other prerequisite activities for the conduct of the elections.  He said those statutory prerequisites have been shared with Stakeholders, including Political Parties, the Private Sector Commission, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the International Development Partners, and other interested parties.

He explained that GECOM’s Work Plan for Local Government Elections, which is being reviewed constantly, contains several major statutory and administrative tasks – some of which will be implemented concurrently. They include the acquisition of non-sensitive Election Materials, advertising/training/evaluation/hiring of Election Day workers, Public Education, Claims and Objections, etc.  Each of these activities can be undertaken concomitantly and indeed are currently being addressed, he said.

He noted that those Plans (with changes as they emerge) had been developed and were in the possession of the Commission, since the approval by Parliament of the new System for Local Government Elections.

The Commission Chairman noted that Parliament this year again approved the holding of Local Government Elections but the money would be released only if GECOM earnestly engaged in in specific activities for those polls until the date is called. He added that it was after this procedure has been realized can Programme II funds be activated by the Ministry of Finance, in accordance with the rules delineated in the Integrated Fiscal Management and Accountability Act No 20 of 2003.

Reacting directly to assertions by the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP)-nominated commissioners– Mohamood Shaw, Dr. Keshav Mangal andAthmaram Mangar—he described them as comments that were being “fed to the media about GECOM’s supposed unpreparedness.

“CONCERN No. 1”

Some constituency boundaries cut across established divisions and sub- divisions requiring field operations to effectively allocate existing registrants on the National Register of Registrants to a unique constituency.

Response:

The Secretariat has already addressed this issue.  A presentation was done to inform the Commission on the way forward with this matter and the Commission already gave the go ahead.  We suggest to those who have raised this issue to specifically identify deficiencies in our demarcation, delineation and delimitation undertakings.

“CONCERN No. 2”

Commissioners believe that the resolution of transfers of numerous electors, particularly to constituencies, must be addressed with dispatch as some constituencies do not have adequate registrants to effectively field adequate lists of candidates.

Response:

GECOM cannot arbitrarily transfer registrants from one constituency to another to facilitate adequacy pertaining to the number of signatories that are required to support candidacy.

 Also, the legal provisions determine the number of signatories that are required to support candidacy – not GECOM.  We have to work with the legal provisions.

The placement of every eligible voter within his/her respective constituency is a statutory task which will be undertaken during the 180-day preparations for Local Government Elections, prior to the conduct of the mandatory Claims and Objections exercise for such elections.

 
“CONCERN No. 3”
An analysis of the National Register of Registrants and subsequent printing of lists for Local Government Elections require operations that involve the Information Technology Division, which is without key top-level and appropriate staff.

Response:

GECOM has been working without an IT Manager for quite some time now.  This has not prevented the Division from carrying out its functions.  In fact, only recently the current staff of the IT Division have updated the National Register of Registrants with the transactions done during the 6th Cycle of Registration and the relevant ID cards have already been printed. 

 Indeed the public would have recognized that advertisements inviting applications for IT personnel are abounding in the print media.  International Development Partners have also been approached relative to acquiring the services of an Information Technology and Communication Specialist to Head GECOM’s IT Division.

“CONCERN No. 4”

Additionally, some GECOM Commissioners noted that there are some key legislative issues, including lacunae in laws that govern Local Government Elections.

Response:

The legislative issues (“lacunae in the law”), which are minor and which cannot prevent the elections from being held as they are, have already been identified, and the relevant proposed amendments have already been drafted.  This task can easily be completed within the six months timeframe for the conduct of elections.  The Commissioners know this.

“CONCERN No. 5”

The issue of voter education was also raised as another exercise that the Commission needs to sufficiently address before elections are held.  There needs to be a vigorous education programme to inform and educate the populace on the new Local Government Elections system, which comprises a mixture of the Constituency and Proportional Representation Models, in which political parties as well as individuals and interested groups may contest the elections.

Response:
This concern is especially facetious.  Relative to GECOM’s Public Education Programme for Local Government Elections, it is significant to note that in March 2010, after involving itself in huge amounts of public awareness programmes, GECOM intimated to  the Minister of Local Government that the Registers of Voters were completed and certified, and that there were no material impediments for holding LGE (to which, I might add, there was not even a recognition of receipt of our correspondence), nothing emerged from the Ministry of Local Government relative to a date for LGE.  Time, great effort and money were wasted

 
As a consequence, GECOM took the deliberate decision to implement an ongoing programme, with moderate intensity, publicizing information about Local Government Elections with focus being placed initially on the new Local Government Elections Electoral System. This was preferable to a “stop – start” methodology, which could have the inherent possibility to exasperate and disenchant potential voter. Later, at the appropriate time, the Public Education Strategy will focus in an intensified manner on the processes and procedures associated with the new System – the moment a date is appointed for the Elections.

 
GECOM’s ongoing Public Education Programme includes the following:-

·         Two panel discussions, which were conducted at the NCN Channel 11 Studio, were broadcast (pro bono) by this Channel for the benefit of viewers in Regions 3, 4 and 5.  Recorded copies of both panel discussions were also publicized by the television stations in Regions 2, 6, 7 and 10, and we will continue to call on all these TV Houses to broadcast the content of the Panel Discussions.

·         100,000 copies of a Brochure titled “Local Government Elections” featuring several aspects of pertinent information were produced.  Copies of this Brochure have been dispatched, with the knowledge of the Minister of Local Government, to all of the 71 Local Authority Areas in Guyana for distribution to citizens of the respective Areas.  In fact, following the finalization of the boundaries of Constituencies within the various Local Authority Areas, we have commenced distributing these brochures at the level of the Local Authority Areas.  We have also commenced making thousands of copies to the Parliamentary (and other) Political Parties for distribution among their constituents.

·         Four infomercials about the new system for Local Government Elections and why persons should vote at these elections were publicized on all of the local Radio and Television Stations.  We consciously discontinued this exercise, but will reactivate the publication of these infomercials very early within the projected 180-day period.

Currently, GECOM is on the verge of engaging the four local daily newspapers to publish sequential columns titled “Local Government Elections Corner”, which will feature pertinent information about Local Government Elections.  Also, the Commission is currently engaged in the process which will lead to the imminent publication, on radio and television, of more pertinent information about the new system for Local Government Elections.

 It is all a matter of timing.  GECOM, with all of its experience and proven track record is committed to carry out its duties without interference and hindrances.  We know what we are about and do not need unnecessary and unhelpful humbug.

“CONCERN No. 6”

Then there was the contention that every eligible voter will not be correctly placed on his/her constituency list.

Response:
It must be emphasized that GECOM has already engaged itself with the preliminary and administrative placement of eligible electors in Constituencies.  However, the placement of every eligible voter within their respective Constituencies is a statutory task which must be undertaken during the conduct of the mandatory Claims and Objections exercise for such elections.

Yet, on the periphery, spokespersons for a Political Party are insinuating that Members of the Commission are somehow involved in some collusion to exclude eligible persons from any voters’ list to be used for Local Government Elections. 

“CONCERN No.7”

There was not enough ground work and consultations done to ascertain boundaries countrywide.

Response:
GECOM did in fact “walk’ the ground to determine the boundaries for the 585 constituencies within all of the existing Local Authority Areas, and carried out the associated physical verification within the communities All this was done with the absolute involvement of Party Scrutineers.

“CONCERN No.8”

GECOM’s thoroughness (relative to the assurance that every eligible voter will be correctly placed on his/her constituency list) excites no confidence. 

Response:
GECOM had already verified the residency status of electors when they had applied for registration.  This is always done in the presence of Party Scrutineers who sign on the “Application for Registration Form” attesting to their observation that the verification process was properly done.  Consequently, there is no need for GECOM to do any further verification of the residency status of the registrant/elector.  The placement of electors within the respective constituencies is an internal task which will be done at the appropriate time.

 Further, prior to the Claims and Objections exercise for Local Government Elections, preliminary Voters’ Lists will be produced and posted for public scrutiny at conspicuous points within all of the 585 constituencies. This would be carried out, so that all Stakeholders, especially electors, can check for the accuracy of their respective listings as well as that of others.  Should any incorrectness pertaining to their particulars be observed, the relevant elector can and should apply to GECOM, during the Claims and Objections exercise, for the necessary correction(s) to be made.  On the other hand electors could also object, again during the Claims and Objections exercise, to the inclusion of any elector who they have reason to believe should not be on the list.

As is the norm, copies of the entire voters’ list will be shared with the Political Parties contesting the Elections for scrutiny!!

 The principal reason for undertaking the foregoing is for all Stakeholders, including the contesting Political Parties, to have confidence in the Final Voters’ List produced for the elections.

“CONCERN No.9”
Thousands of persons are in need of being transferred from the original addresses where they were registered to new addresses to which they have since moved.

Response:
GECOM has already provided the opportunity for the affected registrants to apply for transfers during the sixth cycle of registration.  And, lets face it, persons actually had three months to apply for transfers.

Nevertheless, during the 6th Cycle of Continuous Registration, GECOM had responded to several requests from the Chief Scrutineer of a complaining Party for Mobile Units to go into communities where, reportedly, there were numerous persons who were needful of applying for transfers.  In this regard, notwithstanding the provision of information at grass roots level prior to the visits, the response was far less that we had expected (based on the information given by that Party’s Chief Scrutineer). 

In addition, let it be recognized that, GECOM will be conducting a Claims and Objections exercise during August this year to produce an Official List of Electors (OLE) as a sequel to the 6th Cycle of Continuous Registration. The Parliamentary Political Parties have been informed of this exercise via a letter dated June 9, 2014.  During this exercise, the opportunity will be provided across Guyana for all persons who have changed their addresses since they were registered to apply for transfers.  This feature of the exercise would be widely publicized as would the others.

GECOM takes the opportunity to assure all concerned that it is aware that, especially due to the establishment of new housing schemes, there is the need for the transfer of persons who have taken up residence in such areas after they were registered by GECOM previously as having a residency address at some other location.  Accordingly, heavy emphasis will be placed on this category of persons during the imminent Claims and Objections exercise through the publication of appropriate messages via every available media.

Supportive action by the Political Parties in encouraging its relevant constituents to make use of the opportunity to apply for transfers would contribute significantly in addressing concerns pertaining to transfers.

Alas, all of the efforts and explanations, which we have continuously offered, seem not to matter.  There are still those who state that the Elections Commission must make a public declaration of what is termed the “sensitive” matter of its Constitutional mandate to ensure that everyone eligible is placed on the official list of electors (OLE), in the interest of ensuring that no one will be disenfranchised.

As far as GECOM is concerned, there is no problem, nor is one envisaged, over the placement of eligible voters on the relative lists at the constituency level. In this regard, GECOM has been fulfilling its mandate towards ensuring that no voter is disenfranchised, by providing opportunities for eligible persons to apply for registration, name change, corrections and transfers throughout Guyana.

Surujbally hoped that his explanations would put to rest all of the public innuendoes, speculations and misconceptions.