-could be dry-run for countrywide local polls, says Gecom commissioner
The Donald Ramotar administration has not considered calling separate elections for Georgetown, which Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) commissioner Vincent Alexander says could be used as a dry-run for the holding of polls in the remaining local authorities.
During a post-Cabinet briefing on Thursday, Cabinet Secretary Roger Luncheon said Cabinet has not given thought to the possibility of isolated elections for Georgetown.
Government has maintained over the last few months that Gecom is not ready for local government elections, and that a lot more public education has to be carried out before the order is given for the elections to be held.
In a letter published in Wednesday’s edition of Stabroek News, Alexander, who is an opposition-nominated member of Gecom, noted that the PPP/C once again called for the installation of an Interim Management Committee (IMC) in Georgetown and in the same breath contended that an election is not a solution to the problem. He conceded that that this position may be true but questioned what makes the imposition of an IMC superior to “constitutionally due” elections. “What makes the view of the Government on who should administer the affairs of Georgetown superior to, or more legitimate than, the view of the electorate? All of this posturing is occurring at a time when the elections are long overdue and the mechanism for them to be held has been in place even before the 2011 national elections,” he said.
Alexander noted that Gecom was preparing for local government elections in 2010. He said if the situation in Georgetown is as bad as government argues, it should seek to at least hold elections for the Georgetown municipality alone, as opposed to giving the order for local authority-wide elections. “Hence, if Georgetown is in crisis, Gecom could be requested to hold those elections immediately and separate and apart from the other elections that are also due. This may also serve Gecom, well, as a dry-run for the subsequent holding of the other 70 elections, given the newness of the system,” he said.
Checks with another Gecom official on Wednesday revealed that the country’s laws indeed allow government to facilitate elections for as many or as little authorities as there is cause to. All of the elections do not have to be held simultaneously, and so government can decide that a particular situation, such as the ongoing City Hall debacle, is too serious to wait on a country wide local government elections exercise. Both the administration and the PPP/C on an almost daily basis continue to decry what both describe as the city’s mismanagement by Mayor Hamilton Green and the councillors of Georgetown.
However, Alexander pointed out that the PPP/C was singularly responsible, from 1997 to recent, for including the postponement of the mayoral elections along with the, generally agreed to, postponement of the elections of councillors, in the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Acts, thereby guaranteeing Mayor Green and other local government leaders, across the country, a prolonged lease on life. “…in fact had they not specifically postponed mayoral elections, Green may have been long gone or retained at the behest of others, whose views were voted down or suppressed, but are now blamed for Green’s presence,” Alexander argued.
As a result of the Council’s differences with the government-appointed acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba, the council recently installed City Hall’s spokesman Royston King as her replacement. It has been reproached for its actions by the PPP/C and government. King, who had challenged Sooba’s appointment in court, had his own installation stayed by an action initiated by Sooba this week.
While the standoff between the Council and the government’s designated Town Clerk continues, the populace in Georgetown continues to express dissatisfaction with the level of services being offered by City Hall, including the city’s significant garbage and drainage problems. Many have argued that local government elections will provide some respite and go some way towards fixing the problem.
Alexander conceded that “there is much that is wrong with City Hall” but he said that the action of the Central Government has been a major factor in not allowing the electorate to see its elected councillors at work; or the Council to operate as it should. “So, elections alone, indeed, would not be the answer, but much of the answer lies outside of City Hall,” he said, having pointed out that while the Council has been blamed, it is Central Government that is responsible for the inadequacy of the funding for the conduct of the work of the council, including the withholding of permission for the generation of additional revenue and the non-implementation of the new valuation of properties, in Georgetown.
Since local government elections were last held in 1994, four municipalities have seen their councils dwindle continuously until there was no longer a quorum. As a result, all but two have been replaced by IMCs. This is true for the Rose Hall, Corriverton, Linden, and Anna Regina municipalities. Today, only the municipalities of New Amsterdam and Georgetown have their mayors and councilors intact.The government, using the majority it enjoyed in 2008, voted to include an amendment to the Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill, making provision for elections for the post of Mayor and Deputy Mayor within the local municipalities at the request of the Local Government Minister.
The amendment reads: “Notwithstanding anything in Section 2 or in any other provision of this Act, the Minister may request of a local democratic organ (or on his instructions) authorize the holding of elections at any time for a Mayor, Deputy Mayor, or a Chairman or a Deputy Chairman of a local democratic organ.” The parliamentary opposition, at the time headed by Robert Corbin, opposed the amendment, arguing that it gave the minister the ability to dictate decisions to the town councils, but the bill was pushed through regardless.
When Government’s criticism of City Hall intensified late last year, Stabroek News put to then Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud that he has the power to authorise mayor elections and in so doing replace Green, who government has credited with spearheading City Hall’s degeneration. Persaud, though, argued that he could not authorise such elections unless it was called for by the Council.
When the prospect of mayoral elections for the Georgetown was put to Local Government Minis-ter Norman Whittaker this week, he said that despite government’s views he prefers that the Council itself call for the election, although the ministry has authority to initiate the proceedings for the elections.
Whittaker told this newspaper on Wednesday that the political atmosphere is currently very sensitive and added that he would prefer that the members of the Council request that the ministry facilitate mayoral elections. To this end, he said, the ministry has been trying to persuade the various groups represented in the Georgetown municipality to ask that elections be facilitated.
In the cases of Rose Hall, Corriverton, Linden and Anna Regina, all of which are governed by IMCs, there are no prospects of internal mayoral elections because there is no elected council from which a Mayor and Deputy Mayor can be elected. Local government elections is needed in these cases, and Whittaker said that though he is not able to give a date, he believes that local government elections might be possible not too long from now, maybe in a “couple of months.”
Whittaker said that while he is the one to name a date, he sits on Cabinet and must therefore consult with it, as well as other stakeholders before the decision is taken.