Gecom to be ready for local polls once notified of date

–Surujbally

The Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) would be ready for local government elections once it is notified of a date and money is released by the Finance Ministry, according to Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally, who said that no queries about readiness have been received from either government or opposition parties.

“The Guyana Elections Commission is fully prepared and committed to move formally into an elections mode immediately upon receipt of the appropriate advice from the minister responsible for  local government as prescribed in the relevant legislation,” Surujbally told a press conference yesterday at the Woodbine Room, Cara Lodge.

The Chairman was quick to point out that holding of elections by August 1 of this year has little to do with his organisation. “It is dependent on the passing of and assent to the relevant legislation followed by consultation with Gecom.

Those prerequisites are still not fulfilled to date,” he said. “It is a strange thing we are speaking as if we know there is going to be a local government election this year… As of today, March 13th, 2014, Gecom has not received any advice from the relevant minister.

We have also not received any query from any government official or any political party represented in the National Assembly as to the state of our preparedness for the delivery of local government elections,” Surujbally added.

PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee three 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 President Donald Ramotar has not yet assented to it.

As was previously indicated by the Commission, Surujbally said Gecom has a draft work plan for the conduct of local government elections and it 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 is being reviewed constantly and contains several major statutory and administrative tasks, some of which will be implemented concurrently.

The Chairman added that the demarcation of all boundaries is expected to be completed by March 31, while noting that Gecom was using modern technologies to complete this task since gone are the days where areas were informally marked.

Surujbally added 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.

However, he said that the public education strategy 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.

Recently Local Govern-ment Minister Norman Whittaker had said that the vast majority of the populace is not prepared for the holding of local government polls by August 1. He said that a lot more public awareness work has to be done so as to ensure that the public is knowledgeable and interested enough in the polls, which were last held in 1994.

This work is ongoing, the minister told Stabroek News, while also giving assurances that that he will give the order for local government elections when Gecom says it is ready, and “when we are satisfied that the preparations are in place.”

Asked how much money Gecom would need to facilitate the holding of local government elections, Surujbally explained that he did not have a figure at hand but he added that Gecom has already prepared various estimates and these will be sent to the National Assembly when a date has been set for the elections.

He said too that while a decision has not yet been made on the use of automatic ballot tabulation, he would like to have that system tested before trying it.

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