‘Walkouts hurting GECOM’

President David Granger

…President still awaiting advice to proclaim date for elections
…says opposition support needed

President David Granger said with the advice of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and support from the Opposition in the National Assembly, he will be able to proclaim a date as early as possible for the conduct of General and Regional Elections
In an address to the nation, the Head of State outlined four processes that ought to be respect during this period of the country’s history, the electoral process being one. Despite his ill health, the President has been constantly engaging GECOM and the Opposition Leader to ensure that the necessary systems are in place for the holding of credible elections in accordance with the Constitution.

“I have written to and met the Commissioners of the Elections Commission to urge their readiness to conduct credible elections at the earliest time possible. I am constrained from naming a date for elections without the advice and assurances that the Commission would be competent to conduct credible elections,” President Granger said in his address to the nation.

It was noted that free and fair elections are essential to representative democracy. However, this credibility, in part, is dependent on the integrity of the Official List of Electors. A contaminated list can vitiate the credibility of elections.

“The Government side, during its engagement with the Elections Commission, gained the impression that, considering the small size of the national population, the existing list of electors was ‘inflated’ and needed to be sanitised. It is Commission’s responsibility to determine how efficiently and how quickly this could be achieved,” the President explained.
He reminded that the independence of the Elections Commission is safeguarded by the Constitution, and is therefore insulated from political influence, instruction and interference. The Commission, he emphasized, must be allowed to function independently. “I cannot influence, interfere with or instruct the Commission in its work. I am guided by its advice as to its readiness to conduct elections before I make a proclamation on the date of those elections,” he made clear.

GECOM’s Chairman, Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson, in a letter to President on February 21, 2019 indicated that the Commission did not have the capability to deliver credible General and Regional Elections within the three-month timeframe commencing December 21, 2018. He advised, also, that the Commission would need an appropriation, approved by the National Assembly, in order to conduct General and Regional Elections. The President responded on February 25, 2019, and committed to do everything possible to ensure that the Commission is provided with the financial resources and has sufficient time to conduct credible elections.

“I promised ‘…to seek the approval of the National Assembly to ensure that an agreement can be reached given both the constitutional requirement and GECOM’s capability.’  I also urged the Commission to commence preparations for the conduct of general and regional elections,” President Granger pointed out.

On March 8, 2019, the President consulted with the full membership of the Elections Commission to determine its needs and its readiness to conduct credible elections in the shortest time possible. This information is still pending.

“It would be reckless of me to announce a date for elections without being satisfied that the Commission would be in a position to guarantee credible elections. I did not receive, at that meeting, the guidance that would have allowed me to proclaim a date for elections. I would be unable to do so until the Commission advises me accordingly,” President explained.

He said the four concurrent processes – legislative, judicial, executive and electoral – enshrined in the Constitution, are essential to the lawful resolution of the challenges of the present political situation facing the nation.

The President warned that attempts at frustrating the Commission’s decision-making through walk-outs of meetings by Opposition-nominated Commissioners have been disruptive, dilatory and counterproductive to the agreement of a ‘work plan’ that could assure the nation of the Commission’s ability to hold credible elections within the shortest time possible.

Earlier this week, the President dispatched another letter to GECOM’s Chairman demanding the presentation of the ‘work plan’ and assured the Commission of the Government’s support for credible elections.

“The Government of Guyana is committed to support the rule of law and respect for civil rights. The Government will remain committed, also, to ensuring respect for the Constitution and the independence of the institutions of the State,” the President assured.

The President has also written to and met the Leader of the Opposition on matters relating to the political situation. The first meeting was held January 9, 2019 and it was agreed that the Government would work with the Opposition towards the expeditious conclusion of matters engaging the attention of the court and relating to the no-confidence vote.

Additionally, the Government and Opposition agreed that the representatives of the two sides would meet the Elections Commission to enquire about its readiness to hold elections. A follow-up meeting was held on March 6, 2019 to discuss the National Assembly’s constitutional role in the present situation; and the Elections Commission’s readiness and requirements for funding to enable it to conduct General and Regional Elections.

The Leader of the Opposition requested that the agenda be broadened to include setting an election date and to discuss other matters relating to the Government’s role in the approach to elections. However, the meeting did not go beyond the first agenda item after the Leader of the Opposition insisted on the setting of a date for elections although the President was in no position to proclaim at that time.