THE PPP/C-led Government under the auspices of President Dr. Irfaan Ali, its General-Secretary and Vice-President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, has enhanced the foundation for the fortification of our democracy. Of course, this position resonates with the generous allocation of funds for the holding of Local Government Elections due this year, for which the government must be commended. Those in the leadership of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) need to step up and stop the ‘pussy-footing’ around their expected obligations, because our citizens will no longer tolerate their suboptimal inefficacies.
It is without any doubt that GECOM must demonstrate intent towards correcting the anomalies which served to inform the almost absolute lost confidence and diminished credentials of the institution. No doubt, there has to be a remedial approach that seeks to influence the immediate preparation for the holding of free and fair Local Government Elections (LGEs). The commission must put on its next meeting agenda, a definitive position regarding the LGEs. It is one that demands the chairperson to be assertive and decisive on the way forward.
Given the recent national and almost global condemnation of the organisation, the framework of the foregoing assertions does not require any further or specific justifications. There exist much public evidence of the sinister role played by some GECOM Secretariat staff at the March 2020 General and Regional Elections. These behaviours leave much to be desired and they have resulted out of necessity, a need for scrutiny and cleansing that would realise the appointment of suitable persons whom the organisation must hold to providing transparent and professional performances.
It is without contradiction that those at GECOM understand that the future of our nation is not only hinged on actual seamless transparency of the elections body, but the created perceptions formed by the voting public and stakeholders involved and impacted. Infiltration of the institution at various levels has contributed to still existing threats of these ideals, which have resulted in a global embarrassment. The way forward, therefore, demands a swift and objective approach to realising this end, while ensuring that its role in servicing the nation is upheld.
The abhorrence of the likes of CEO Keith Lowenfield and others, who are before the court for ‘fraud and other charges,’ must result in their immediate divorce from all spaces of administrative control related to elections matters. After all, the fact that GECOM Chairperson Madam Claudette Singh had to write Mr. Lowenfield to go back and produce the correct results in keeping with the publicly witnessed recounts, confirm among others, reasons why she or any other should have jailed him for his fraudulent and deceitful actions, if acting as a judge in the Guyana courts of law. Why the apparent delays now, the apparent delays in cleaning up the institution?
It is important to point out and remind the GECOM Chairperson that the Commission of GECOM has the sole authority to hire certain staff for the execution of electoral work and supervise specific functions. In this respect, Section 18 and 19 of the Elections (Amendment) Act 15 of 2000, respectively, states:
“(18) The Chief Elections Officer and the Commissioner of Registration shall notwithstanding anything in any written law, be subject to the direction and control of the commission.
(19) For the purpose of removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that the power of the Commission to supervise the functioning of any elections officer and the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner shall include the power to issue directions to any such officer or the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner in respect of the employment of any person by them in relation to the registration of electors or the conduct of elections.”
Meaningfully, therefore, the commission under the hands of Chairperson Madam Claudette Singh has the legal authority to cleanse itself of the improprieties related to the dirty acts conducted by contaminated or inefficient staff.
Aside from the staffing issues which must be addressed, it is expected that the commission would request and consider a plan and budget for the realisation of LGEs for this year. Several activities likely to inform preparation for the LGEs should include beginning the updating of the voters list with a period of continuous registration, followed by the statutory claims and objections period.
The changing of constituency boundaries must be reviewed, given that Lowenfield had previously made sudden changes unknown to these boundaries without engaging the PPP/C and other opposition paries at the time in any form of consultation. The well-publicised gerrymandering approaches were called out but were never responded to by the Secretariat, since they were designed to frustrate voters in suspected PPP/C strongholds.
Further, GECOM must put a proper system in place to employ and sustain a pool of trained staff, both permanent and temporary. The organisation must not and cannot have staff members working as temporary staff for years. Men and women of integrity who wrote and passed GECOM exams with distinction, must not be overlooked for employment unless there are established criteria that are not biasedly applied.
The chairperson and the commission must objectively assert themselves and not be overwhelmed by the PNC’s hawks in the Secretariat. I challenge GECOM to explain why is it at the last elections the boundaries and the staff were changed and hired without the commissioners’ participation. Keith Lowenfield and his cabal had their field days in GECOM employing ‘Phantom personnel’ as they pleased, while giving out contracts in city hotel rooms. Besides, training worth hundreds of millions was conducted in a very ad hoc and unaccountable manner.
Madam Chairperson Justice Claudette Singh is now in charge of ensuring our LGEs are on stream. She now has another opportunity to show the world and nation a delivery that breathes confidence and honour. I believe that Justice Claudette Singh must be given our unflinching support to hold free and fair elections.
As a caveat, let me say that there is no way we must accept the likes of Clairmont Mingo living in Region Five and being the returning officer for Region Four. Further, he is a permanent staff member at GECOM who was singled out by the PNC to come to Region Four for the elections in 2020.
We must say down and out to all riggers.