PPP commissioners again break up GECOM meeting

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OPPOSITION-NOMINATED commissioners on the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Tuesday staged another walkout, this time over the chairman’s refusal to breach the Standing Orders to accommodate Commissioner Robeson Benn.

But Vincent Alexander, a government-nominated commissioner, said despite attempts to stymie the work of the commission, GECOM’s Secretariat will continue to prepare for national registration. The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and its nominated commissioners are up in arms against preparation for the conduct of national registration.

Opposition-nominated Commissioner Bibi Shadick had made it clear that she will not participate in discussions on house-to-house registration. On Tuesday, she was absent from the commission’s weekly statutory meeting at its office.

Opposition-nominated GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj

It was expected that during that meeting, the Chairman, Justice (ret’d) James Patterson and the commissioners would have received a progress report on preparations for national registration and a report from GECOM’s Secretariat on its overall operations, but they did not get past the first item – chairman’s remarks.

Moments after exiting the meeting, opposition-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj told reporters that his colleague, Robeson Benn, was shut down when he attempted to raise some issues during the meeting, causing him to walk out. According to Gunraj, Benn was raising issues pertaining to procurement, and the recently-released report on GECOM’s hiring practice compiled by the Ethnic Relations Commission. Benn’s exit was followed by Gunraj’s.

But the Guyana Chronicle understands that Benn was attempting to bulldoze his way through the meeting, and insert substantive items onto the agenda without prior notice.
Alexander explained that Benn wanted to raise three substantive matters during the period allotted for the chairman’s remarks. “Mr. Robeson Benn seems to be of the view that you come to a meeting and the agenda is set at the meeting.

My own disposition is that we have the standing order, in terms of what the agenda looks like; the chairman may seek to put items on the agenda and the members of the commission may also, with prior notice, pass amendments for issues to be placed on the agenda; and when the meeting starts, the agenda is adopted,” Alexander explained

He emphasised, however, that the agenda is not set at the meeting, and Benn is fully aware of this. The commissioner, speaking to reporters outside of GECOM’s compound, said that nowhere in the world substantive items are placed on the agenda without notice.

Alexander said despite being fully aware of the procedure, Benn held onto his position, and subsequently left; when the chairman attempted to carry on the meeting according to the agenda, Gunraj followed him.

“There seems to be a new and emerging trend where only two members nominated by the leader of the opposition turn up. One leaves, and the other, who is constant, says well there is no quorum, so there is no reason for me to be here; so he has never really walked out of a meeting. He has departed at a time when there is no quorum,” Alexander told reporters.

The government-nominated commissioner noted that the commission, during this period, is basically receiving reports from the secretariat, and without a quorum, it would not be able to analyse those reports and the challenges facing the secretariat in the execution of its mandate. However, he gave the assurance that the administration is continuing its work.

Government-nominated GECOM Commissioner Vincent Alexander

“GECOM has an administration and a commission….GECOM’s administration continues to prepare for registration in keeping with a majority decision of the commission to proceed with registration, so that work is ongoing,” he said.

He however bemoaned the fact that in recent times, the commission’s work continues to hit stumbling blocks. “For the longest while we haven’t gotten past introductory remarks,” he posited.

In addition to reports, the commission is expected to address vacancies within the secretariat. Last February, the commission voted for the secretariat to proceed with house-to-house registration. Approximately, $3B has been allocated to facilitate national registration. Since then, the secretariat has been training hundreds of Assistant Registration Officers (AROs) as well as enumerators. The actual process of house-to-house registration is expected to begin as early as June, 2019.