Gov’t seeks $3.4B for GECOM to hold elections

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Finance Minister, Winston Jordan presenting the financial papers

GOVERNMENT has asked the National Assembly to approve $3.4B for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for the holding of General and Regional Elections. The move is in keeping with a commitment by President David Granger that his Administration will ensure that GECOM is ready to facilitate early elections in the event the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) rules that the ‘Vote of No-Confidence’ against his Government was validly passed. The Court of Appeal, however, has invalidated that motion, and a decision from the CCJ – Guyana’s highest court, is pending.

On Wednesday during the 114th Sitting of the National Assembly in the Eleventh Parliament of Guyana, Supplementary Estimates (Current and Capital) to the sum of $3,496,496,155 were presented for the Elections Commission.

Of the total sum, approximately $182.4M has been budgeted for ‘capital projects’ which include the purchasing of five vehicles to the tune of $48M, two boats and engines (40 Horsepower and 150 Horsepower) at the cost of $10M, and update of the Multiple Identity Document Issuing System (MIDIS) at a cost of $75M. Additionally, a number of drawer office desks, office chairs, power surge equipment, vertical filing cabinets and canvas tents would be purchased as well.

The remaining $3.314B, budgeted for ‘current projects,’ will be used primarily for the payment of wages and salaries for polling day staff, the purchase of print and non-print materials, local travel and subsistence, the purchase of drugs and medical supplies and field materials and supplies. GECOM has also budgeted for food and security services among other important materials and services. The estimates are expected to be debated in the National Assembly during the next sitting next week.

Last November, the House cleared approximately $5.4B for GECOM when it considered the 2019 National Budget. Of the $5.4B, approximately $3B was budgeted for House-to-House Registration.

Before the Court of Appeal invalidated the ‘Vote of No-Confidence,’ the Parliamentary Opposition – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was pushing for GECOM to utilize the $3B intended for National Registration for the holding of General and Regional Elections but the Government appointed GECOM Commissioners had objected to such a move.
In February, after months of disagreements on the way forward, the Chairman of the Commission, Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson used his casting vote to break a tie, and voted in favor of House-to-House Registration. That process has begun, and with the Official List of Voters expiring on April 30, the conduct of National Registration becomes even more important.

Last week during the hearing of the consolidated appeals on the vote of No-Confidence at the CCJ, GECOM’s Attorney, Senior Counsel Stanley Marcus told a panel of judges led by President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders, that in the event the court rules that there should be early elections, funding would be needed.

“I don’t think I have to belabour the point that funding is necessary to administer elections,” Marcus told the judges while pointing out that the 2019 programme of the elections commission was unanimously decided upon. That decision covered the revision of the Official List of Voters which was in use for more than a decade. “…a list that was compiled in 2008 by no stretch of the imagination could be valid for elections in 2018 or 2019,” Marcus told the court.

During that hearing, the Senior Counsel also informed the Court that the Elections Commission could only facilitate General and Regional Elections after October, 2019. It therefore means GECOM, even with the finances being provided, would only be ready to hold elections, if the need arises, in November or thereafter.

The CCJ concluded hearing oral submissions on the appeals last week Friday and has indicated that a date for the decision would be announced later.

Justice Saunders said based on the decision of the court, GECOM’s Attorney may be asked to reappear before the CCJ on behalf of the elections commission

“It may be necessary for us to hear further submissions from GECOM, but of course we don’t want to hear those submissions now,” the CCJ President told the parties in the consolidated appeals. It was explained that once the CCJ arrives at its decision, a date would be given for the ruling. If the CCJ overturns the decision of the Court of Appeal, early elections would be required in keeping with Article 106 (7) of the Constitution, which provides for elections to be held within three months following the defeat of a government in the National Assembly. However, Government has argued that the Opposition, as indicated by the Court of Appeal, did not secure an absolute majority, and therefore the vote was invalid.

Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland, during Wednesday’s sitting, told the Government Members of Parliament, in the voluntary absence of the Opposition, that the decision of the Court of Appeal will stand pending the outcome of the CCJ decision.