AG worried about funding for GECOM

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Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams

THE Chief Justice’s (CJ’s) ruling on the no-confidence motion that Cabinet is separate from government and should resign has rendered it impossible for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to receive funding for the holding of new elections.

This is according to Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Basil Williams during the television programme ‘Facing the Nation’ on Friday.

In the Christopher Ram v The Attorney General case, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George-Wiltshire had said that Cabinet should have resigned on the night of December 21, 2018, when the motion was declared carried by the Speaker.
Williams has already filed two appeals on the matter, and told the Appellate Court that he is dissatisfied with the decision of the High Court.

The attorney general pointed out further oversight in the decision on Friday, stating: “The opposition has been saying that the government should only have a caretaker role which would really be to pass legislation for funding of the elections, but I don’t know if they realise that if there’s no Cabinet then no financial bills can be taken to the Parliament.”
He referenced Article 171 (2) (ii) of the constitution which states: “Except on the

recommendation or with the consent of the Cabinet signified by a minister, the Assembly shall not –– (a) proceed upon any Bill (including any amendment to a Bill) which, in the opinion of the person presiding, makes provision for any of the following purposes –– … for imposing any charge upon the Consolidated Fund or any other public fund of Guyana or for altering any such charge otherwise than by reducing it…”

In preparation for the 2020 General and Regional Elections and ahead of the no-confidence vote, GECOM was allocated $3B through the 2019 budget for fresh house-to-house registration.

The aim was to ensure that the current list would be in order for the 2020 elections by clearing it of dead persons; persons no longer residing in the country or a community and ensuring that those now eligible to vote are added to the list.

Since the CJ’s ruling, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has argued that the $3B registration sum could be used to facilitate the new election.

At a previous press conference, he told media operatives that “parliament could legitimately convene”—and the opposition would attend– on the basis of passing new laws or supplementary provisions for GECOM.

However, Minister Williams pointed out the error in this deduction as such changes would require the involvement of Cabinet, the committee of senior ministers responsible for controlling government policy.

“Of course, if there’s no Cabinet, then no financial bills can go to the Parliament for passage and therefore no funding could be sought for GECOM and for the holding of elections,” Williams added. “That’s a serious consequence of [the] ruling that Cabinet doesn’t exist.”

Prior to the CJ’s ruling, Williams had submitted to the court that the government cannot operate without a Cabinet and such would be a “recipe for anarchy.”
Members of government have also come out against the remarks of the opposition leader that the government should take on a “caretaker role”, stating that no part of the constitution provides for that.

Williams noted that it is amusing that when the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) sought advice when the opposition — then in government – was faced with a no-confidence motion, they came to the same conclusions as now taken by the government.
As such, he deducted that in order to play a political game, the opposition often makes assertions that contradict their own actions or come sternly against actions of the government that they themselves have taken in the past.

Giving another example, the attorney general said that the opposition now finds fault with the government’s legal right to appeal the CJ’s ruling on the motion when they themselves have appealed other matters in the past.

“They tend to, on occasions, assert something when they themselves are affected by it,” he said. “I think they sent something to me today purporting to suggest that they’re appealing the GECOM case to the CCJ and yet you hear them arguing as though the chief justice’s decision is the end of everything and final.”

He said that Guyana’s hierarchical court system allows for anyone who is dissatisfied with the decision of a judge to appeal to the Court of Appeal or Full Court and to the CCJ if need be.

Meanwhile, on the matter of holding of elections, Williams stated that any logical person can understand that even if the court says “elections should be held next Friday”, GECOM has to be ready first to so do.

Furthermore, it is on the basis of the advice from GECOM that the President is able to announce an official election date and should the President fix a date and it later cannot be realised, this becomes a state of emergency.

“GECOM really is the real crucial factor in the holding of elections and therefore they have a duty to ensure that elections are fair and clean. To have clean elections you have to look at the registration process and you have to purge the list of dead people and people who are not registered in accordance with the laws governing registration,” Williams said.
At the most recent GECOM press briefing, it was stated that the secretariat would need 148 days to put all necessary systems in place for the holding of elections.

Although the days are winding down within the 90-day timeframe, the commission has not given the secretariat the approval to go into operations mode.

The current state of affairs has seen the commission’s Operations Sub-Committee being granted additional time to discuss the various possible timelines for elections, after which they are to meet on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 for a final pronouncement.