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Govt asks High Court to block PPP’s challenge of Local Govt Minister’s constituency changes, omissions

Attorney General Basil Williams and Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan

Local Government Minister, Ronald Bulkan on Monday asked the High Court to block efforts by the opposition People’s Progressive Party’s  Bibi Shadick  to quash his decision to hold elections for several neighbourhood councils without first issuing an order containing important information.

The application comes up before Justice Gino Persaud on September 27, 2018.

Attorney General, Basil Williams argues, on behalf of Minister Bulkan, in court papers seen by Demerara Waves Online News that the electoral process has already begun and can be challenged only by an elections petition until after the ballots are cast and the results declared.

Bulkan said the court does not have jurisdiction to settle or determine any matter concerning the validity of the 2018 Local Government elections after the election has begun and the administration and conduct of the election is in progress. “I am advised by my Attorneys-at-Law and verily believe that the court can only exercise jurisdiction to settle or determine any matter pertaining to the validity of the local government elections 2018 until after the local government elections are held and then by way of an election petition,” Bulkan said in affidavit.

In the court papers, government said the Guyana Elections Commission has already spent a “substantial portion” of the  GY$1.2 billion that have been allocated for the local polls for the election of town councillors and neighbourhood/ village councils.

Bibi Shadick (Guyana Chronicle photo)

High Court Judge Persaud was also asked to consider that GECOM has already begun implementing statutory timelines – registration from May 21 to July 18, 2018; Nomination Day on September 21, voting by the disciplined services on November 2 and voting by the wider public on November 12.

The High Court action by Shadick, who is also a GECOM Commissioner, challenges Minister Bulkan’s power to determine the name, boundaries and a number of members in the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils in Moruka/ Phoenix Park, Kitty/Providence, Nile Cozier, Lamaha/ Yarowkabra, Hauraruni/ Yarowkabra, Plegt Anker/Kortberaad and Wyburg/Caracas.

“In creating new Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and modifying and/or re-demarcating the existing internal boundaries of existing constituencies the Respondents not only acted unlawfully but they did so unfairly, capriciously, whimsically and in a manner to prejudice and skew the elections in favour of one major political party and against the other,” she said in court papers seen by Demerara Waves Online News and filed on her behalf by Attorneys-at-Law, Anil Nandlall, Marcia Nadir-Sharma, Manoj Narayan, Sasha S. Mahadeo-Narayan, Rajendra R. Jaigobin and Anuradha Deodasingh.

Shadick wants the High Court to find that  Bulkan “has unilaterally, and without consultations with any of the electors and stakeholders inclusive of the major political parties likely to vote and contest the local government elections in those areas and without stating any reasons, made changes to the number of seats in 14 local authority areas.

Shadick, who represents the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on the seven-member Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), said Bulkan’s failure to abide by the Local Democratic Organs Act, Cap. 28:09 to identify by name, boundaries and number of members of each of those councils is “unlawful, illegal, in violation of the Local Democratic Organ Act, Cap. 28:09, in excess of jurisdiction, failed to satisfy or observe procedures required by law, contrary to law, null, void and of no effect”.

Similarly, Shadick wants the High Court to find that Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield broke the law by failing to fix the exterior boundaries of those same areas on the grounds of excess of jurisdiction, failure to satisfy or observe procedures required by law, abuse of power, illegal and constitutes a usurpation of the statutory functions of the Minister of Communities.

The GECOM Commissioner also wants the High Court to quash a decision by  the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield to demarcate and re-demarcate constituency boundaries within those Local Authority Areas without first holding consultations with the electors and stakeholders inclusive of the major political parties likely to vote and contest the election of councilors in the said Local Authority Areas. Shadick’s grounds are that Lowenfield’s decision is unreasonable, irregular or improper exercise of discretion, in bad faith, improper or irregular consideration,  with the policy of the Local Democratic Organs Act, and in violation of Article 13 of the Constitution, unlawful, unconstitutional, void and of no effect.

Similarly, Shadick wants the High Court to find that Chief Elections Officer broke the law by failing to fix the exterior boundaries of those same areas on the grounds of excess of jurisdiction, failure to satisfy or observe procedures required by law, abuse of power, illegal and constitutes a usurpation of the statutory functions of the Minister of Communities.

The GECOM Commissioner also wants the High Court to quash a decision by  the Chief Elections Officer to demarcate and re-demarcate constituency boundaries within those Local Authority Areas without first holding consultations with the electors and stakeholders inclusive of the major political parties likely to vote and contest the election of councilors in the said Local Authority Areas. Shadick’s grounds are that Lowenfield’s decision is unreasonable, irregular or improper exercise of discretion, in bad faith, improper or irregular consideration,  with the policy of the Local Democratic Organs Act, and in violation of Article 13 of the Constitution, unlawful, unconstitutional, void and of no effect.