Gecom Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally yesterday dismissed a series of concerns raised on Saturday by the three PPP/C appointed commissioners about the electoral body’s readiness for local government elections (LGE).
In a lengthy response to the concerns raised by Mohamood Shaw, Dr Keshav Mangal and Athmaram Mangar, Surujbally said all that was necessary was for the Minister of Local Government to name a date for the LGE and this would trigger the phased rollout of Gecom’s six-month work plan including voter education.
The PPP/C government has come under intense pressure in recent months to call local government elections as there is no impediment in the way. However, the government and the ruling party have made a series of excuses which have been consistently rubbished by Gecom and other stakeholders. In light of Gecom’s previously enunciated position that it was ready, Saturday’s release of the statement by the PPP/C commissioners on the body came as a surprise but was seen as providing cover for the government to continue claiming that LGE could not be held.
Surujbally said that Gecom is “fully prepared and committed to move formally into an election mode with immediacy, if and when the Commission is mandated to conduct Local Government Elections.”
He said that it was worthy of note that each year, Gecom has been presenting LGE budgets, and Parliament had always approved funds for the conducting of Local Government Elections. The Commission has again budgeted for the conduct of polls this year and Parliament did give its approval, the Chairman said.
The Chairman went through each concern raised by the commissioners and others outside of these.
In relation to the concern by the PPP/C commissioners that some constituency boundaries cut across established divisions and sub-divisions requiring the allocating of existing registrants on the National Register of Registrants to a unique constituency, Surujbally said that the Gecom Secretariat had already dealt with the issue. He said a presentation was made to the Commission on the way forward and Gecom has already given the go ahead. He called on the trio to specifically identify deficiencies in Gecom’s demarcation, delineation and delimitation undertakings.
On the commissioners’ concern that the resolution of transfers of numerous electors must be addressed with dispatch as some constituencies do not have adequate registrants to effectively field adequate lists of candidates, Surujbally said that Gecom cannot arbitrarily transfer registrants from one constituency to another to facilitate adequacy in relation to the number of signatories required to support candidacy.
Furthermore, he said the legal provisions determine the number of signatories required to support candidacy – not Gecom. He assured that the placement of every eligible voter within his/her respective constituency is a statutory undertaking which will be discharged during the 180-day programme, before the conduct of the mandatory Claims and Objections exercise for LGE.
The third concern raised by the trio was that an analysis of the National Register of Registrants and subsequent printing of lists for LGE require top level staff in the Information Technology (IT) Division.
Surujbally’s reply was that Gecom has been working without an IT Manager for quite some time now. He said this has not constrained the Division from carrying out its functions.
“In fact, only recently the current staff of the IT Division have updated the National Register of Registrants with the transactions done during the 6th Cycle of Registration and the relevant ID cards have already been printed,” he asserted.
He said there have also been advertisements inviting applications for IT personnel. International partners have also been approached on acquiring the services of an IT and Communication Specialist to Head Gecom’s IT Division.
Critical legislative issues
The fourth qualm raised by the trio was that there are some critical legislative issues, including gaps in the laws that govern Local Government Elections.
Surujbally said that these lacunae are minor and cannot prevent the elections from being held since they have already been identified and the relevant proposed amendments have already been drafted. He said the task can easily be completed within the six-month timeframe and the Commissioners know this.
The fifth issue raised by the commissioners was that of voter education. The Commissioners said there needed to be a vigorous education programme to inform and educate the populace on the new Local Government Elections system. This argument has also been made by several government and PPP officials.
Surujbally’s rebutted by saying: “This concern is especially facetious. Relative to Gecom’s Public Education Programme for Local Government Elections, it is significant to note that in March 2010, after involving itself in huge amounts of public awareness programmes, Gecom intimated to the Minister of Local Government (Kellawan Lall) that the Registers of Voters were completed and certified, and that there were no material impediments for holding LGE (to which, I might add, there was not even a recognition of receipt of our correspondence), nothing emerged from the Ministry of Local Government relative to a date for LGE. Time, great effort and money were wasted.”
As a result of this, Surujbally said, Gecom took the decision to implement an ongoing programme, with moderate intensity, publicizing information about LGE. The initial focus was on the new LGE Electoral System.
“This was preferable to a ‘stop–start’ methodology, which could have the inherent possibility to exasperate and disenchant potential voter. Later, at the appropriate time, the Public Education Strategy will focus in an intensified manner on the processes and procedures associated with the new System – the moment a date is appointed for the Elections,” Surujbally said.
Gecom’s ongoing Public Education Programme, he said, includes the following:-
“Two panel discussions, which were conducted at the NCN Channel 11 Studio, were broadcast (pro bono) by this Channel for the benefit of viewers in Regions 3, 4 and 5. Recorded copies of both panel discussions were also publicized by the television stations in Regions 2, 6, 7 and 10, and we will continue to call on all these TV Houses to broadcast the content of the Panel Discussions.
“100,000 copies of a Brochure titled ‘Local Government Elections’ featuring several aspects of pertinent information were produced. Copies of this Brochure have been dispatched, with the knowledge of the Minister of Local Government, to all of the 71 Local Authority Areas in Guyana for distribution to citizens of the respective areas. In fact, following the finalisation of the boundaries of Constituencies within the various Local Authority Areas, we have commenced distributing these brochures at the level of the Local Authority Areas. We have also commenced making thousands of copies [available] to the Parliamentary (and other) political parties for distribution among their constituents.”
On the concern that every eligible voter will not be correctly placed on his/her constituency list, Surujbally stated that it must be emphasized that Gecom has already applied itself to the preliminary and administrative placement of eligible electors in constituencies but that the placement of every eligible voter within his/her respective Constituency is a statutory task which must be executed during the conduct of the mandatory Claims and Objections exercise.
Despite this, he said, spokespersons for an unnamed political party are insinuating that members of the Commission are “somehow involved in some collusion to exclude eligible persons from any voters’ list to be used for Local Government Elections.”
He added that prior to the Claims and Objections exercise for LGE, Preliminary Voters’ Lists will be produced and posted for public scrutiny at conspicuous locations within all of the 585 constituencies.
“This would be carried out, so that all stakeholders, especially electors, can check for the accuracy of their respective listings as well as that of others. Should any incorrectness pertaining to their particulars be observed, the relevant elector can and should apply to Gecom, during the Claims and Objections exercise, for the necessary correction(s) to be made. On the other hand electors could also object, again during the Claims and Objections exercise, to the inclusion of any elector who they have reason to believe should not be on the list,” Surujbally asserted.
In addition, he said that copies of the entire voters’ list will be shared with the political parties contesting the elections.
Responding to the claim that there was not enough groundwork and consultation to ascertain boundaries countrywide, Surujbally disagreed.
“Gecom did in fact ‘walk’ the ground to determine the boundaries for the 585 constituencies within all of the existing Local Authority Areas, and carried out the associated physical verification within the communities All this was done with the absolute involvement of Party Scrutineers,” he said.
Addressing the claim that thousands of persons are in need of being transferred from the addresses where they were registered to new addresses to which they have moved, Surujbally said Gecom has already provided the opportunity for the affected registrants to apply for transfers during the sixth cycle of registration.
“And, let’s face it, persons actually had three months to apply for transfers,” Surujbally said.
Even so, during the 6th Cycle of Continuous Registration, Surujbally said that Gecom had responded to several requests from the Chief Scrutineer of an unnamed “complaining party” for mobile units to go into communities where there were reportedly numerous persons who needed to apply for transfers. Surujbally said that the response was far less than expected based on the information given by that Party’s Chief Scrutineer.
The only party that had publicly raised this issue was the ruling PPP/C.
Further, he said, Gecom will be undertaking a Claims and Objections exercise next month to produce an Official List of Electors as a sequel to the 6th Cycle of Continuous Registration. Surujbally said that the parliamentary political parties have been informed of this exercise via a letter dated June 9, 2014. This exercise will provide the opportunity for all persons who have changed their addresses since registration to apply for transfers.
Surujbally said Gecom is aware that particularly as a result of new housing schemes, there is the need for the transfer of persons who have taken up residence in such areas since registration.
Surujbally said he hoped that the response to the concerns raised “would put to rest all of the public innuendoes, speculations and misconceptions.”