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House green-lights consideration of local govt bill, despite PPPC objections

PPPC parliamentarian Juan Edghill

Despite vigorous objection by the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) about short notice, government used its one-seat majority on Wednesday for the tabling, debate and passage of amendments to a key local government law that is necessary to pave the way for local elections in December.

PPPC back-bencher, Juan Edghill told the National Assembly during a debate on a motion to suspend parliamentary motion for the amendment bill to be tabled, debated and passed Wednesday. The parliamentary agenda and the draft law were circulated on Friday, September 4, 2015, five days ago instead of the required six days.

He recommended that the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2015 be taken to a Select Committee for adequate consultation. “We cannot be  railroading of a very important piece of legislation like this Bill today,” he said.

Edghill appealed for more time to be given for the PPPC to consult with its members about the proposed 26 “significant” changes that are listed in the Bill and whether they would clash with the Constitution and other laws.

He said his party could not agree to forgo scrutiny at the altar of political expediency by the coalition government. “If we are to consider this important piece of legislation, time is required in interpreting those views time must be given for us to consult with the people of Guyana,” he said.

Aspects of the legislation including changing the time for nomination day, the right of returning officers to refuse a recount, he said , are “issues that are not strange to the body politic.”

In the explanatory memorandum for the Bill,  Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan said “the amendments  seek to clear the way for the holding of local government elections in December.

But Governance Minister, Raphael Trotman argued that there was no violation of the rules of the House because they could be suspended to facilitate the swift passage of legislation.  “We have postponed for  17 years that which was due in 1997. We can and should proceed with the debate of this believe and I believe that the opposition not only has the capability an competences of addressing this Bill but also that the opposition has recommendations which it wishes to make today,” he said. Trotman charged that the PPPC was merely engaging in delaying tactics and filibustering before the gallery of television cameras.

The amendments include the widening of the definition of an election officer to include Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Chief Elections Officer and Deputy Returning Officer. It also widens the definition of identification card to include a card issued during the continuous registration process and insert a definition of a by-election.

The amendment, if passed, would grant the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) the legal right to extract the names of eligible voters from the National Register of Registrants and not from the 1992 Voters List.

Local Government Elections were last held in 1994.