DURING the recent budget debate concerning the National Assembly’s consideration of Governments Fiscal Expenditure plans for 2024, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira defended the 2024 budget allocation to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), to enable the Statutory Body to be fully prepared for the holding of Elections. Her excellent articulation of rational arguments drew no meaningful counter-challenge.
The preceding supports our constitutionally enshrined democratic ideals, and our Dr. Irfaan Ali-led People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government through this budget, recognises the constitutional level of GECOM’s autonomy and needs for fulfilment. It is without contradiction, demonstrative of the necessary commitment required, to ensure the removal of unnecessary financial obstacles to the rollout of the organisation’s readiness plans. Key in this respect is the avoidance of delays due to a lack of funds that can impact preparedness schedules, for the institution’s hosting of general and regional elections due in 2025.
Critically, GECOM during this year, is expected to focus on strengthening several essential pillars to guarantee accelerated readiness from good preparation. Part of the imperatives for GECOM to focus on during this time, must address capacity building and training. In addition, the Commission must ensure the review of the different areas requiring strengthening for preparing the election day staff.
Linked to the foregoing is the review and updating of the various training manuals. These essentially will have to be in alignment with the changes that were made to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) Cap. 1.03, and the National Registration Act Cap. 19:08. The importance of these should never be underscored, given that they were born out of the highest levels of national and international recommendations, made to counter former CEO Keith Lowenfield and others incessive abuse of the unamended formats of the legislation and the raw threat these realised to our country’s democracy.
A careful review of these two “Act;” will bring full awareness of the role of GECOM staff along with their responsibilities and particularly, the consequences for failing to abide by the correct legal obligations. The reviewing of these two acts will also introduce and reinforce a better training of GECOM Trainers, who will now have to prepare an estimated fourteen thousand staff to work and produce free and fair elections.
Most of the election’s day staff are our teachers or other public service employees who meet the established criteria. The presiding officers, deputy presiding officers, polling clerks, ballot clerks, and information officers must be fully trained and work according to the revised and prepared manuals. Of note, these upcoming elections are likely to be conducted utilising approximately two thousand four hundred (2,400) polling places, with not less than five persons working at each polling station.
Hence, it is appropriate and necessary for GECOM to make sure that they train and prepare enough persons to draw from with particularly good capacity building.
Significantly, GECOM must be fully cognisant of the fact that they will need 10 quality returning officers. At the last general and regional elections, the “culprits” at GECOM did not name all 10 ROs in a manner that allowed sufficient background scrutiny and opportunity for absolute rejection.
The cabal clandestinely took a long time to catapult Clement Mingo from Region Five to Region Four as RO. The rest is history as he is awaiting to spend his “time”. Further, GECOM must be careful in the preparation and selection of the approximately 75 deputy returning officers. This is crucial because one must not forget that several of the previous senior staff are before the Courts for not following the procedures and the East Coast drama must never happen again.
Free and fair elections must be held in Guyana. The approval of the requested appropriation of $3.5 billion will certainly enable GECOM to undertake fluently, all their necessary procurement endeavours to facilitate and advance their preparation for the holding of elections on time.
Kudos must be accorded to the Guyana Government for ensuring that the institution could deal transparently with a greater level of preparatory activity, and in an unhindered manner.