Gecom may not meet August deadline for local gov’t polls

-work plan outlines 180-day timetable after announcement of date

Although the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) is confident that it will be ready to hold local government polls 180 days after a date is set by the local government minister, sources say it is unlikely that it can meet the August 1 deadline recently set by the National Assembly.

“I don’t think the problem is Gecom’s readiness to hold local government elections because we have a budget and we have been preparing for this and have a plan… the thing might be Gecom being ready for August per se,” one source said.

Gecom has identified legislative hiccups that would need to be addressed to cater for its 180-day timetable but has recognized that these can be taken care of during the given period.

“In planning for the conduct of local government elections using the Local Authorities (Elections) Act and other relevant pieces of legislation, Gecom has recognised the existence of a few legislative lacunae which need to be amended to provide for the elections to be conducted without hindrance…. The lacunae will very shortly be shared with the parliamentary political parties,” Gecom Public Relations Officer Vishnu Persaud told Stabroek News yesterday in an interview.

Key among the gaps is the provision for Nomina-tion Day to be “no less than the 21st day before Election Day.”  Persaud said Gecom is proposing that this provision be amended to allow for two days or more to be allocated for the Submis-sion of Lists of Candidates, considering that Lists would be submitted for 585 Constituencies in addition to the lists for the 71 Local Authority Areas.

Persaud explained that while Gecom’s readiness is seen by some as a political issue, the organisation was addressing concerns from a “Gecom factual perspective.” He stated that he would not be able to respond specifically to the question of readiness but added that Gecom has always been prepared and has required budgetary allocations to facilitate the process when need be.

“Every year we have been budgeting for, and Parliament had always approved, funds for the conducting of local government elections.  Again we have budgeted for the conduct of local   government elections in 2014, and we are confident that approval will again be given by Parliament,” he asserted.

Further, he explained that Gecom was in possession of a draft work plan for the conduct of local government elections.  This work plan puts the timeframe for the conduct of the elections at 180 days commencing from the announcement of a date for the holding of local government elections by order by the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development.

The draft plan was being reviewed constantly, he pointed out, while adding that it contains several major statutory and administrative tasks, some of which will be implemented concurrently. “Demarca-tion of boundaries for some constituencies–an ongoing activity, acquisition of non-sensitive election materials, advertising/training/hiring of election day workers, public education, claims and objections, etcetera…,” Persaud explained.

He said while there might be questions over the fact that Gecom is still engaged with the demarcation of boundaries, it must be emphasised that due to the “dynamic expansion of housing” in some communities, the boundaries that were established have to be revisited to ensure that persons from these communities are guaranteed the right to contest and to vote at the elections. “It must be noted that boundaries are not static, rather they are dynamic and ever-shifting,” he added.

He said that education exercises are continuous as Gecom took the deliberate decision to have ongoing programmes publicising information about local government elections, with focus being placed initially on the new local government electoral system.  The public education strategy, he added, will change focus in an intensified manner on the processes and procedures associated with the new system when a date is identified for the elections.

PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee two weeks ago said that government-nominated commissioners were doubtful about the commission’s readiness to hold local government elections.

“We get the distinct impression from our commissioners that it doesn’t seem that they are ready for local government elections,” he had told a news conference.

His announcement came in wake of the opposition using its majority in the National Assembly to pass an amendment that calls for the holding of the polls before August 1, 2014. Government did not support the bill and it is unclear whether the president would assent to the amendment bill.

Gecom has said that while it cannot and will never act outside of its authority by demanding local government elections be held, it is fully prepared and committed to move formally into an election mode with immediacy after a day to hold the elections was declared by the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development.

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