Guyana should adopt international conventions on corruption- EU Electoral Observation Mission

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 May 2023, 14:53 by Denis Chabrol

Chief of the EU Election Observer follow-up mission Javier Nart flanked by Anne Marlborough, Legal expert for the EU Election Follow-up Mission and Alexander Matus, Team Leader-Electoral Expert.

The European Union Election Observation follow-up mission on Wednesday stressed the need for Guyana to adopt two international anti-corruption conventions as part of local laws to help combat corruption in the oil sector and election campaign financing.

Chief of Mission Javier Nart said there was urgent need to entrench the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). “Very much important is that the administration is not overwhelmed by this influx of money that there could be a blessing or challenge,” he told a news conference. He praised the Guyana government for its “positive” outlook on that matter, based on discussions with Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Gail Teixeira. “It was a very, very and positive and open discussion and we found that they were in the best position,” said Mr Nart, a European Union parliamentarian who is from Spain.

In addition to the need for a limit on campaign financing as part of efforts to ensure there is a level playing field, Mr Nart said source of funds is a major issue that has to be addressed. “Also very important is who is giving this money,” he said. Mr Nart also pointed to the possibility of incumbent governments using public assets for campaign financing and abusing public media, as was the case in Guyana in the 2020 elections. “Public media, at the end, became kind of government media for the party in power,” he said.

The UNCAC, which was ratified and accepted by Guyana on April 16, 2008, states that “each State Party shall also consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative measures, consistent with the objectives of this Convention and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and, where
applicable, the funding of political parties.”

The EU Observation Mission notes that the 2020 general and regional elections campaign demonstrated that the two key contestants have significant funds at their disposal, while no other party has the capacity to run a nationwide campaign, and that the legal framework does not provide for transparency and accountability in political party and campaign financing. In that regard, the EU Observation Mission had recommended that consultations be held develop effective legislation to regulate political finance based on the principles of equality, transparency and accountability. “Such campaigns could provide transparency in campaign incomes an establish reasonable limits for campaign expenditure as well as disclosure and reporting requirements and effective sanctions,” the mission report states, adding that there could be independent oversight body to monitor campaign financing.

A general comment on Article 25 of the United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that “Reasonable limitations on campaign expenditure may be justified where this is necessary to ensure that the  free choice of voters is not undermined or the democratic process distorted by the disproportionate expenditure on behalf of any candidate or party.”

Anne Marlborough, Legal expert for the EU Election Follow-up Mission said the adoption of those conventions into domestic law would allow aggrieved persons to challenge the electoral process on the grounds of fraud or campaign financing. “They allow for restraints on campaign funding, they allow for campaign restraints and regulation of political finance because they do talk about it being in the interest of the electors, interest of the voters,” she said.

Ms Marlborough said those conventions, if they are made binding on States rather than “remain words that are outside of the country” but provide for restraint of spending in the political domain problem. “If it’s not incorporated into domestic law, then it can’t be used and civil society may wish to use those instruments in litigation, perhaps, against government or in advocacy against government so it’s important that whatever the legal obligations are that they become relevant so that they can be relied upon in local courts and that they can be used to make government’s accountable  not just in Guyana but locally,” she said.

She added that unless the Human Rights instrument is adopted, no one could rely on that domestically. That’s a big oversight from our perspective,” she added.

Alexander Matus, Team Leader-Electoral Expert, said the follow-up mission’s report, which would be produced in another month, would include a  “detailed assessment” of all 26 recommendations and their stages of implementation. He stressed that there are still two more years before Guyana’s general elections are constitutionally due which could pave the way for legislative changes or administrative actions of various state institutions.

Ms Marlborough said among the areas yet to be addressed is the perceived government control of the State-owned media  but she noted that there had been some legal changes since the 2020 elections for the tabulation process and the publication of statements of poll.

The Representation of the People Act was also amended to allow for the division of Regions Four Three, Four and Six into more than one to allow for easier electoral management and the processing of results. Also highlighted as progress is the continuous registration of persons for at least 10 months per year.

The EU Observation Mission also recommends that Guyana adheres to the ICCPR and general comments therein on a range of areas including freedom of expression, access to information, privacy and data protection, transparency in public administration and the organisation, functioning and decision-making processes states that, “the security of ballot boxes must be guaranteed, and votes should be counted in the presence of their candidates or their agents. There should be independent scrutiny of the voting and counting process and access to judicial review or other equivalent process so that electors have confidence in the security of the ballot and the counting of votes.”  The ICCPR General comment on Article 25 also states that “there should be independent scrutiny of the voting and counting process and access to judicial review or other equivalent process so that electors have confidence in the security of the ballot and the counting of the votes” and that “the results of genuine elections should be respected and implemented.”  Further, the ICCPR general comment on Article 25 states that “An independent electoral authority should be established to supervise the electoral process and to ensure that it is conducted fairly, impartially and in accordance with established laws which are compatible with the Covenant.”

Ms Marlborough said the EU Mission was interested in seeing whether there would be electoral reform as part of the constitutional reform process for which legislation has been passed but no major action has been taken so far.