Western missions, local organisations urge local govt polls this year

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 December 2015, 20:59 by GxMedia

Several civil society organisations and Western diplomatic missions on Wednesday said by all accounts the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was ready to hold Local Government Elections (GECOM) and every effort should be made to go to the polls.

In a joint letter, the organisations appeared to take the side of the opposition which recently approved legislation for holding the long-delayed polls by August 1. “That is something all parties and civic stakeholders should agree on in 2014,” said the organisations in their missive.

Expressing confidence that preparations are on track for holding the elections, the missions and organisations said: “Once a date for elections is announced, GECOM can begin the statutory steps required by law to hold local government elections.  By all accounts, GECOM is well prepared and poised to ensure free, fair and transparent local elections whenever called upon by the government to do so.

Notably absent from the list of organisations that penned the letter is the pro-government Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG).

The Donald Ramotar administration has rejected the opposition’s resolve in the House to hold the elections by August 1, saying that GECOM would not be ready for balloting by that date.

Signatory organisations to the letter are the Berbice Chamber of Commerce, British High Commission, Consultative Association of Guyanese Industry, Embassy of the United States of America, Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, Guyana Bar Association, Guyana Manufacturing and Service Association, Guyana Trades Union Congress,  High Commission of Canada, Justice Institute, Private Sector Commission and Transparency Institute Guyana Inc.

The diplomatic missions and the organisations hoped that now that “the election machinery is ready” and political parties have reaffirmed their desire to hold local elections and are making campaign preparations, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Alliance For Change (AFC) and the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) would take steps for the polls to be held this year.

This is the second call by these organisations in one year for Local Government Elections to be held swiftly “to ensure its citizens benefit from strong and effective local governance. “While 2013 passed without local government elections being held, significant progress was made to set the stage for these historic elections in 2014,” they added. They include the National Assembly’s approval of four bills establishing a reinvigorated framework for local governance. Three were signed into law by the President and the other was deemed unconstitutional as it takes away the power of the executive. “Together with the 2010 Local Authorities Act establishing the electoral framework for local elections, the legislative path to elections has been cleared,” said the institutions.

 The private sector, civil society and diplomatic missions said GECOM has been intensifying its preparations and expanding voter education outreach to familiarize people with the voting process and the Ministry of Local Government has been hosting seminars and workshops with stakeholders to promote voter education.  They also referred to GECOM Chairman, Steve Surujbally saying that the Commission was fully equipped and ready to stage the elections.  Among the Commission’s completed tasks are the demarcation of the boundaries and constituencies in 69 of 71 districts and the holding of voter education sessions in each of them.

The signatories said effective and efficient public administration coupled with healthy local governance could drive development efforts.  “Local government institutions bring government closer to the people, fostering greater inclusion, civic responsibility, empowerment and participation.”

Local Government Elections have not been held since 1994. Since then, many municipal and neighbourhood councils have fallen into administrative disrepair due to deaths, migration, resignations and alleged corrupt practices. That has resulted in deficient rate collection and poor delivery of basic services such as drainage, road maintenance and waste disposal.