Guyana is no closer to local government elections as the bill required to mandate the elections by a specified date this year is yet to engage President Donald Ramotar’s attention.
During a press conference yesterday, interim Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker said the bill – the Local Authorities (Elections Amendment) Bill 2014 – was sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers after being passed earlier this year by the National Assembly. It remains there to this date. The Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall has said that he is awaiting the president’s instruction before sending it to the office of the president to be signed or rejected. This is despite the fact that the AG is supposed to be the one advising the president on such matters.
Whittaker, when asked of the president’s reason/s for not signing the bill, said that Ramotar has always signed bills whose constitutionality is not in question.
He further said that the date which the bill mandates local government elections be held by – August 1st – is not practical but he did not give this as the reason for the president’s failure to sign the bill.
When the bill was tabled by former Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud earlier this year, its provisions required local government elections on or before December 1st 2014. A motion to amend the date from December 1st to August 1st was moved by APNU MP Ronald Bulkan, and the bill was passed with the amendment by the opposition majority in the House despite the government’s objections. From all indications, the changed date has prompted the president’s refusal thus far to give it his assent.
Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) commissioner Vincent Alexander believes the fact that the most recent bill has not been enacted means the provisions of the old bill still applies. Furthermore, since the bill passed last year required local government elections by or before last December, Alexander said the non-holding of local government elections since December of last year constitutes a breach of constitutional requirements.
During an interview with this newspaper Alexander argued that government should have moved to enact the relevant legislation to postpone local government elections in December of last year, around the same time the old provisions expired. The Donald Ramotar administration’s failure to do this, he continued, makes it culpable.
Minister Whittaker has continuously said that the people of Guyana are not ready for local government elections, particularly since it will not be held under a mixed Proportional Represen-tation/First Past the Post electoral system. Much public education of the masses, and training of regional and other relevant officials is required, he argues, before local government elections can be held.
The minister has also said that Gecom, which is responsible for managing local government elections, is not ready, and has much work to do before he can give the order to start preparations to hold the elections.
Gecom, on the other hand, has indicated that it stands ready, and can prepare for elections within six months of receiving the requisite order from the local government minister.