Charles Corbin appointed as elections commissioner

GECOM to be ready for local gov’t polls before year end

Charles Corbin has been appointed as a commissioner of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), which yesterday indicated that it would be ready to run off overdue local government polls before year end.

Charles Corbin taking the oath of office (GINA photo)
Charles Corbin taking the oath of office (GINA photo)

Corbin, who is the brother of main opposition party leader Robert Corbin, was sworn in to replace attorney Lloyd Joseph, who died suddenly last July. Corbin was sworn in at the Office of the President yesterday by President Bharrat Jagdeo, who said it was “unacceptable” that the local government polls have still not been held.

In a statement, the PNCR-1G said Corbin was identified to fill the vacancy after a process of meaningful consultation between the party leader, in his capacity as leader of the opposition, and the leaders of the parliamentary opposition parties, the AFC and GAP-ROAR. AFC leader Raphael Trotman said yesterday that there had been a difference of opinion among the parties, explaining that the two smaller parties had identified a candidate to fill the vacancy as did the PNCR-1G. “In the end, as opposition parties we agreed to disagree,” he said, “and that left Mister Corbin with a right to proceed.”

The law only requires that the opposition leader meaningfully consult with the parliamentary opposition parties in parliament before advising the president on the three opposition-nominated members of the commission. Trotman recalled that prior to the recent vacancy created by Joseph’s death there had been a vacancy on the commission as a result of the resignation of Haslyn Parris. In that instance, he said both AFC and GAP-ROAR supported the PNCR-1G’s proposal of Vincent Alexander to take up the post. On this occasion he said the two parties should have had the say on the nominee.

He said the two small parties did not support Corbin’s nomination in principle though they had nothing against him at a personal level. Ultimately, he added, a common understanding had to be found as there is need for a united opposition. “We have nothing against him per se,” Trotman said of the new commissioner, “And we will expect him (to carry) out his constitutional functions properly and in the interest of the combined opposition-not only on behalf of the PNCR.”

The PNCR-1G said Corbin brings substantial experience and expertise to the post. He has a BA in Sociology and an MA in Organisational Psychology from Columbia University. He also has a Certificate in Political Economy from Academia Stefan Gheorghi Bucharest, Romania and a Diploma in Co-op Management and Administration from the Kuru Kuru Co-op College. He is also a consultant on computer technology. After his swearing in, Corbin said he would be immediately immersing himself in the deliberations of the commission. “I hope that the contributions that I make will enhance the ultimate objective, which is stakeholder confidence in the work of the commission and I hope that we will be able to deliver what we are expected to the level that the Guyanese people expects of us,” he said.

GECOM is currently preparing for the holding of local government elections, which have been due since 1997. It has been delayed by a failure of the government and opposition to agree on reforms to be completed by the bi-partisan Task Force on Local Government Reform. While the Task Force has agreed on a new Local Government Electoral system, it is still working to complete a draft Fiscal Transfers Bill and a draft Bill for the establishment of the Local Government Commission.

President Jagdeo yesterday said he hoped for a bilateral agreement between government and the opposition to conclude the framework for the holding of elections. Alternatively, if an agreement can’t be reached at a bilateral level, he said, the parties would have to go to parliament and have the debates take place there. “Whatever comes out that [would be] the framework that would guide the election but we absolutely have to move forward,” he said.

“It is unacceptable that so many years after local government elections were held we have been unable to hold these elections. We are not doing our people any good or we are not meeting their wishes at the local government level,” he added.

The task force has been working since 2001 to complete reforms and its work has been stalled by continued disagreements. “I said to them if you can’t reach agreement, don’t linger,” Jagdeo emphasised, saying that those areas where they have been unable to reach agreement could be the subject of discussions between him and the opposition leader. “If we can’t reach agreement then the next thing is go to the parliament, to go with a draft bill and have the debates take place so that the people in the country would see the positions of the various bodies in parliament and then you conclude some arrangement but it can’t go on forever,” he said.

Meanwhile, GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally said the commission projects that it would be prepared to run off polls by November 30, though he was optimistic that an earlier date could be possible. However, he noted that GECOM’s preparations rest on the completion of deliberations by the Task Force as it would have to implement the agreements.

Dr Surujbally also announced the completion of the fingerprint cross-matching exercise, used to identify possible multiple registrants.  He said that out of the prints for 440,000 registrants, the exercise found between one hundred to two hundred duplicates.  “We are pulling them out to see who they are and what the mistake was, but it’s really nothing to write home about [and] we are quite pleased,” he said.

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