GECOM approves local govt constituency boundaries; opposition commissioners object

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 January 2023, 23:18 by Denis Chabrol

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Tuesday, by a majority vote, approved the constituency boundaries for Local Government Elections that are slated for this year, but opposition election commissioners claimed that the demarcations amount to those that had been announced by Local Government Minister Nigel Dharamlall.

“The report represents exactly what the Minister had illicitly sought to foist on GECOM. In other words, GECOM has now clothed the Minister’s illicit act with its approval,” said Vincent Alexander, who is an election commission for the opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC). Opposition Chief Scrutineer Carol Smith-Joseph had last year moved to the High Court to, among other things, challenge the Local Government Minister’s announcement and gazette of boundaries, several of which were merged on the basis to provide adequate representation.

The report was submitted by Chief Elections Officer Vishnu Persaud as a product of GECOM’s Secretariat after field work was reportedly done to demarcate the boundaries for the 70 neighbourhood councils and 10 towns. LGE should have been held on March 13, 2023 but that has been pushed back to a date that is yet to be determined.

Governing People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) election commissioner, Sase Gunraj said the boundary demarcation report was compiled by GECOM staff after “walking the ground” along with opposition scrutineers in several areas.

With Mr Alexander contending that the boundary demarcation process did not consider population size and geography,  his claim of gerrymandering of the constituencies to the PPPC’s advantage was flatly dismissed by Mr Gunraj. “I don’t agree with that. In fact, I strongly disagree and reject that statement for the very reason, they (opposition commissioners) are not speaking of processes that were used in 2016 and 2018 (Local Government Elections); they were no criteria set out and utilised in 2016 and 2018 that he is talking about. The secretariat made changes and we ran two elections; they never complained then,” he said.

Mr Gunraj could not say whether the adopted boundary demarcation report contained amendments to the boundaries that  had been issued by the Local Government Minister because “we are not relying on the boundaries set out in that order but we are relying on the boundaries set out in the report of the Secretariat.” He said Mr Alexander admitted in the GECOM meeting that he did not read the report to ascertain whether the boundaries were the same as issued by Mr Dharamlall. At the same time, Mr Gunraj said he did not read the GECOM Secretariat’s  report in its entirety but merely supported its approval along with the GECOM Chairman Retired Justice Claudette Singh. “For me, it doesn’t matter,” he said, adding that the commission could not intelligently question the report.

In what appeared to mirror the Local Government Minister’s announcement of new boundaries on November 22, Mr Gunraj said Number 52- Number 74 neighbourhood council in Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne) has been split into two councils. He said other neighbourhood councils had been combined and others had new seats.

Now that boundary demarcation report has been given GECOM’s nod, Mr Gunraj said the next step is for that election management body to decide on a period for claims and objections to pave the way for the Local Government Minister to proclaim a new date for elections.

Mr Alexander said dating back to 2009, procedures had been laid down for boundary demarcation but Mr Gunraj said “nobody could bring an approved set of procedures and there are vague references in minutes.” Mr Gunraj said the same process was used in 2016 and 2018 but the opposition commissioners were referring to 2009 “deliberately so”.