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No GECOM Chairman “curtailing” Commission’s work- Chief Elections Officer; Ramotar says Granger probably delaying general elections for oil cash campaigning

Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and former GECOM Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally.

The Chief Elections Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Keith Lowenfield says the absence of a Chairman is affecting key decision-making by that elections management agency.

“The absence of a Chairperson, no doubt, curtails the work of the Commission one way or the other,” Lowenfield told Demerara Waves Online News.

The delay has also raised concerns by former President Donald Ramotar that President David Granger has embarked on a plan to delay the next general elections to dole out goodies from oil revenues that are expected to flow in 2020- the same year that general and regional elections are due.

“They want to wait until they start to get oil flowing and, therefore, they will try to do a lot of splurging if they get oil money and use that as their excuse of what they did here and there to give them the kind of results that they would be looking for,” Ramotar told Demerara Waves Online News.

Charging that the two-year old Granger-led administration’s track record has been poor in the areas of good governance and transparency, Ramotar said the government was eagerly finding an excuse to delay the next general elections. “The longer they take to put a Chairman in place, the longer the preparations for elections will be delayed,” he added. The former Guyanese leader and veteran politician recalled that back in 1990 the voters’ list had been deliberately bungled, causing the then People’s National Congress (PNC) government under President Desmond Hoyte to postpone the elections to 1992 by which time the Carter Centre-brokered electoral reforms had been also put in place. Those reforms had included a new voters list and the counting of the votes at the place of poll, and abolition of overseas voting.

Since the retirement of Dr. Steve Surujbally from the post of Chairman in late February, 2017, the commission has not met, and his successor has been mired in a disagreement between President David Granger and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo over the acceptability of the latter’s 12 nominees so far. The two political leaders are due to meet on Jun 12, four days ahead of another High Court hearing on a case to offer a legal interpretation of Guyana’s constitution on the eligibility of nominees.

Lowenfield explained that any additional activity such a fresh house-to-house registration would have to be dealt with whenever the seven-member body meets. “No doubt that will be on the agenda when the new Commission is properly constituted and you will move ahead with that, all depends on the priority of the Commission,” he said.

The GECOM CEO said after the commission decides whether to hold a new house-to-house registration exercise in 2018 or 2019, it would have to be factored into budget preparations. “In the absence of that, I cannot arbitrarily say that we are doing that because that decision is a decision of the board,” he said. GECOM had last year signaled that it would have been probably been held this year, as that process has to be held every eight years; the last one having been conducted in 2008.

The Chief Elections Officer said in the absence of a sitting Commission, GECOM was currently in the final stages of another round of continuous registration, as authorised by the Commission, issuing replacement national identification cards, and conducting internal training.

“New initiatives- I cannot do that because those are decisions of the board… so for us, the earlier the board is there, the composition is in order, I think GECOM can proceed in those many things that it wants because the direction will be provided to the Secretariat by the Commission,” he said.

The GECOM Chief Elections Officer said even though Local Government Elections are due again next year, the Commissioners “would have to pronounce on that” and supervise the operationalisation of its decisions.

Asked whether he believed the now almost three-month delay in appointing a new GECOM Chairman would adversely affect the elections schedule, Ramotar said it was unclear how much longer the President and the Opposition Leader would be locked in this dispute.

President Granger has rejected two lists of six nominees each. In the first instance, he had said that that list was not in keeping with his interpretation that the constitutional preference is for judges, retired judges or someone eligible to be a judge. Granger subsequently added other criteria including integrity and and independence including  that “that person will not be an activist in any form (gender, racial, religious etc)” and “that person should not have any political affiliation or should not belong to any political party in any form, apparent or hidden.”

Those on the second rejected list are Retired Justice of Appeal B.S Roy,  Retired Justice William Ramlall;  Attorney-at-law and a former Magistrate, Ms. Oneidge Walrond-Allicock; Attorney-at-Law, Kashir Khan;  Attorney-at-law, Nadia Sagar and businessman, Gerald Gouveia. The first rejected list had been made up of Governance and Conflict Resolution Specialist,  Lawrence Lachmansingh;  Attorney-at-Law and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram;  Retired Major General, Norman Mc Lean; Business Executive, Ramesh Dookhoo; Indian Rights Activist, Rhyaan Shah and History Professor, James Rose.


Oil and politics

The former Guyanese leader ruled out politically pressuring ExxonMobil to stall plans to extract oil commercially if it is perceived that revenues would be used by the incumbent government to give it an unfair advantage at the polls and enrich itself.

He said ultimately that oil company would be more interested in maximising its revenues if the price of oil is high, but might be inclined to delay production only if there is a slump.

“My view is that I don’t think Exxon will be concerned about our local politics and my view is that they will not be influenced by this. Maybe, they prefer to operate in an environment that is more stable and democratic but that is not their main priority. Their business is pumping oil and making big profits so I think it is futile to call on Exxon not to pump oil,” he said.

Ramotar prefers to bank on mobilising civil society, religious and other organisations if the PNC-Reform-dominated coalition stalls the holding of general elections.

He noted that the PNCR has said that President David Granger is committed to the ideals of his party’s founder leader, Burnham.  “This is not a regime that is thinking about the welfare of the country. This is what  I would describe as a bureaucratic elite that is using the State apparatus to enrich themselves and that is why they just don’t care that when they go to an undemocratic system that it will eventually impact on the country and the deterioration of every aspect of life will be horrible,” Ramotar said.

The then PNC-led administration had been consistently accused of holding on to power tenaciously through rigged elections and human rights abuses of its opponents including privately-owned media.

On the other hand, the PNCR, Alliance For Change and the Working People’s Alliance had repeatedly accused the then PPP-led administration of presiding over state-sponsored death squads in associating with shady characters such as convicted drug lord, Shaheed Roger Khan; suppression of privately-owned media that were critical of the government of the day, misuse of State resources for private gain and turning a blind eye to drug trafficking.

  • Lancelot Brassington

    ‘This is what I would describe as a bureaucratic elite that is using the State apparatus to enrich themselves.’
    Ramotar is giving light entertainment here (lol). He is not known to have personally enriched himself but he certainly stood by passively while his lord and master Jagdeo and many people associated with the PPP plundered the country’s assets. Then there is the question of relatives of PPP comrades being given jobs they hadn’t the experience to handle . I am sure Ramotar knows a thing or two about this.

    He was such a weak leader that Lisaveta found it more worthwhile to imitate Jagdeo’s bad example than to follow daddy’s more austere lifestyle. And of course there is the fact that Jagdeo turned around and kicked him out of the party leadership once the election was lost.
    Ramotar would do well to stay in his corner and enjoy his retirement.

    • OldDaag

      so you are foolish to think the 2 wrongs make a right! If Ramotor was a FOOL so be it but HIS statement is spot on with the current dictators. Now speaking of the country ASSETS do you care to answer why SOCU/SOCA and SARA has not JAIL Norton for the drug bond fiasco, Volga Lewerence for the recent emergency 605M Drug deal, the Harmon trip to CHINA, the DURBAN park scandals and the 50% minister salary increase? Hmm Wonder why they claim the treasury was empty yet the find 20M a year to pay HAMMY GREEN and give LINDEN free Electricity….I BET you cannot answer SOME of these -your justification would be BACK to the PAST pointing out PPP faults rather than look at HOW the current administration is ABUSING tax payer dollars…By the way where is the OIL CONTRACT? Trotty and Moses is getting BIGGER by the day….and Rumjatoo is look more like a seasoned alcoholic with the amount of visit to SITA BAR…..and the PASTOR skills in the housing Management sector? Care to do some explanation?

  • rudeo

    you going soft on ppp ramotar?…..wow!

  • ChosenNChrist

    Indeed, 2020 soon come and GECOM needs directions. However, whoever is chosen will (“will”, speaking more definitely is human, rather than “may”; we take time to adapt and then soar) take some time before they function effectively and efficiently. I hope Dr. Steve Surajbally, will be there to lend a hand.

    I think these past and present government officials take the opportunity they receive to lead for granted. They fail to see that they have an opportunity in leadership to grace the pages of history. We will never forget Nelson Mandela.
    Mr Ramotar had the opportunity, Mr. Granger has the opportunity but, buuuuut, and buuuatttt. Money is vanity. Some get, take, take more, want more and seize more. After all needs are met, without humility, grace, selflessness and love, the “more” can become a hindrance.

    What if in 2020, the oil dries up? 🙂 Guyana needs humble, and selfless visionaries.

  • ChosenNChrist

    Ah yes, in the absence of a new Chairman, Dr. Steve Surajbally could have remained in acting a little longer. I’ve seen people close to 70 years retire and remain on the job just so a void can be filled and the organisation can run smoothly. They subsequently leave.

    Well, that is just my opinion. Hopefully, with lots more effort I can make a valuable contribution to my birth land and the millions of newborns that born therein.