AN abundance of evidence from the March 2020 Elections supports the overwhelming and imbued negative impact of contaminated electoral staff on our democratic process. Indeed, Justice (r’td) Claudette Singh, the Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), has had a baptism of fire at the helm of the organisation during the period leading up to and during these elections. Notwithstanding, as the Chairperson of the Commission, her principal role is to ensure the organisation’s mandate of delivering free and fair elections.
From the myriad occurrences related to major fraudulent attempts at the last general and regional elections, our nation almost collapsed under the deliberately created and associated stress-fractures. As such, the Chairperson must now ensure all systems are in place to clean up all the rogue elements in the employment of GECOM or be called out for being less than radical enough to address some of the core problems. The need to employ men and women with integrity, who will be held accountable for ensuring free and fair elections cannot be overemphasised. The Commission must, therefore, improve or follow the established principles for recruiting staff with clean and unblemished records that will remove risks and suspicion.
The political situation in Guyana for decades has been characterised by ethnic sensitivities which emphasise the need for strong transparent procedures and oversight for acceptable results. It is not easy to win the trust of the people and decades of flagrant bullish frauds at the hands of the Peoples National Congress, still serve to realise much apprehension about another round of perpetuated thievery. Without any doubt, it is at elections time that demonic-like manifestations normally show their ugly faces. One must admit, however, that there were a few strong and genuine Chairpersons such as Rudy Collins, Doodnauth Singh and Joseph Singh whose real effort and assertiveness made a positive difference.
Admittingly, the present Chairperson, Justice Claudette Singh, was appointed to control a moving train and made an effort to complete and provide this country with free and fair elections. It was not without major faultlines and criticisms of management at the various levels of the organisation. The experiences learned demand radical and urgent overhaul since history confirms that it took the steely leadership along with the will of the staff who exercise strong levels of integrity to produce free and fair elections.
The failure of GECOM has to be aligned to the failure of the leadership where too many things were taken for granted. The appointed APNU+PNC Commissioners also proved their intolerable indecency by attempting to stretch the applicable laws beyond its implicit elasticity threshold, while realising unacceptable delays. In so doing, corruptly targeted imbalances contributed to the one-man show in the Secretariat, breakdown in the system that allowed the balanced hiring of staff, key operations and administration monitoring oversight of the staff, and the loss of control by the Commission. It was here the wicked operators of the Secretariat were allowed an almost free lease to manipulate and put in place their rigging plans for the elections.
The hemorrhaging started after the 2006 General and Regional Elections. The hiring of staff, the purchasing/procurement of items for GECOM went out of control. The then GECOM Chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally allowed the role of the Commission and the Secretariat to be one of the same. The Commission at that time allowed the Secretariat to assume powers to train and employ staff and exercise almost sole control of purchasing. The situation led to exacerbated financial non-accountability as well as strong calls for police investigations by the Auditor General from 2015 to 2018. For these fiscal periods as well as 2020, the audited financial statements seem in a special place that this nation is waiting to see.
Our citizens suffered billions of dollars lost during the memorable five months, March to August 2020 elections hiatus. This massive loss was contributed to by the corrupt dictates that could have been avoided. It is the reason why GECOM now is in search for a Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Deputy CEO, assistant CEO, Chief Accountant, Legal Officer, Logistics Manager, Civic and Voter Education Manager along with many more vacancies.
This nation must be fully cognisant of the reality and role play when former President David Granger took it on himself to employ his unilateral choice, the un-fit, and improper James Patterson as the Chairman of GECOM. It was indeed another glaring attempt to fully take over while the partisan and imposed staff selections made all the mischief-makers feel that they were untouchable.
This country must put an end to rigging and ensure the March 2020 debacle never recurs. The proposed legislative amendment of the RoPA is an incremental approach to deterring some of the glaring fraudulent practices. The Chairperson and Commission should recognise the support and work to improve GECOM’s image and citizens’ confidence. As for electoral reform, this will only come with the willingness of the politicians to appreciate that we have to work together to win the trust of this nation.
Let us wait and see the results of the PNC Congress. The rigging must stop there. And we must have a better opposition that has the interest of this nation for a better Guyana.