— over $4.1B budgeted for GECOM, Minister Dharamlall tells House
WITH over $4.1 billion budgeted for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Local Government and Regional Development Minister, Nigel Dharamlall has affirmed that the plan is for Local Government Elections to be held this year.
Making his budget debate presentation before the National Assembly on Friday, Minister Dharamlall touched on the topical issue as he noted that his government strongly supports holding of the LGEs.
“We believe in democracy, we believe in people’s choices, we believe that for our country to continue to evolve for development to come flowingly to our people that we must have Local Government Elections. We are going to have Local Government Elections this year, we have budgeted billions of dollars for LGEs and are going to have LGEs this year,” Dharamlall announced.
He further noted that “We have budgeted billions for GECOM, in excess of $4.1 billion and LGEs is on the card for the government during the course of this year.”
However, according to Dharamlall, there has been efforts by some of the APNU+AFC GECOM Commissioners to stymy the holding of the elections, which will see the elections of the councillors for the 80 local democratic organs (LDOs), which includes the 70 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and 10 municipalities, including the City.
The government has repeatedly indicated that it is ready to hold the elections but is awaiting the guidance of the GECOM. Notwithstanding this, the opposition continues to press the issue.
Though the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development (MoLGRD) is responsible for announcing the date for the LGEs, this can only be done after consultations with GECOM, which decides its readiness and has the responsibility for holding the elections.
The elections were due in 2021, and some $1.1 billion had been allocated in the 2021 national budget for it. However, there were questions surrounding the credibility of several employees, who were implicated in the attempts to rig the 2020 elections. Several were eventually fired.
Last December, after months without a Chief Elections Officer, Vishnu Persaud, was hired to fill the post. However, several senior posts in the GECOM Secretariat still remain to be filled.
Minister Dharamlall, during his budget speech, noted that the holding of LGEs is just one of many ways that this year’s budget caters for the population at the community level.
“Every village in this country will have interventions from Budget 2022. We have a lot of work to do in the local government and regional development sector,” said the minister.
The MoLGRD has been allocated $71 billion in the national budget this year, with $714 million going towards the subvention for the LDOs.
LACK OF PARTICIPATION
Aside from speaking about the massive community development on the cards, Dharamlall during his budget presentation also addressed issues surrounding the lack of participation of Region Four Regional Chairman, Daniel Seeram, in the preparation of the region’s budget, pointing out that the Regional Chairman was not in the country at the time when the budget was being prepared.
Dharamlall also responded to several comments from Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Cathy Hughes, who spoke before him. Hughes, a former Minister of Telecommunications, during her presentation spoke of the need for electronic devices for students.
She also questioned how much money had been accumulated in the Universal Service Fund and how much was the final settlement between the government and Atlantic Tele-Network, Inc (ATNI), principal for Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GTT).
Dharamlall pointed out however, that it was under the PNC/R, which is part of the APNU+AFC Coalition, which Hughes represents, Guyana signed into a telecommunications monopoly in the early 1990s.
Moreover, despite years of being lobbied, the APNU+AFC did not operationalise liberalisation of the sector. It was not until the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) came into government that just months after the sector was liberalised.