No decision yet on local gov’t polls – Ramotar

Government is yet to decide when it will issue the order for GECOM to prepare for local government elections, President Donald Ramotar says.

Ramotar’s statements, offered during a press conference yesterday at the Office of the President, coincide with statements iterated by Minister within the Ministry of Local Government, Norman Whittaker. Whittaker has said that the electorate is not yet ready for polls and more work has to be done with them. Critics have skewered this explanation as being an excuse for avoiding local government polls. The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has said that it is ready and awaiting the instruction of government.

The minister had also said that much more public education exercises are needed to raise interest in local government elections, thereby increasing the number of citizens who will participate in said elections. Until GECOM is ready and the public is properly sensitized, says Whittaker, local government elections cannot be held.

When asked when government plans to hold local government elections, the president said “Well that is not yet decided. When we decide I’ll let you know.” Ramotar is also yet to sign a local government bill – the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill – which was sent to him recently mandating the holding of local government elections by or before August 1st this year.

The bill was tabled by former Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud and its provisions, if passed, would have postponed the holding of local government elections to, by or before December 1st this year. Arguing that local government elections have been postponed long enough, the opposition parties voted in favour of an amendment proposed by A Partnership for National Unit MP Ronald Bulkan to have local government elections by August 1st , 2014.

The bill was passed with Bulkan’s amendment despite government’s opposition. Before its provisions become law though, the bill must first be signed by the president, and Stabroek News understands that the legislation currently sits in the office of Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall.

The AG has told Stabroek News that the president must first give the “ok” before the bill is given an assent certificate and sent to be signed.

Meantime, government has been reported as praising its chances of reclaiming the majority in the legislature if general elections were to be held. These actions have prompted onlookers to suggest that government may favour hosting general elections over local government elections.

When questioned on this yesterday, Ramotar said to reporters “that too I can’t answer you specifically on.” Local government elections were last held in 1994, despite laws which require such elections every three years.

Western missions here and local non-governmental groups have been pressing the government to convene local government elections as the reform bills have been passed by Parliament.

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