Guyana should move to a more technocratic elections commission

- former UK envoy

It would be good for Guyana in the future to move to a more technocratic Elections Commission rather than having politicians so closely engaged in the process, the UK’s top envoy to Guyana, Simon Bond has said.

Bond, who served here for three years including the past year as the British High Commissioner to Guyana, ended his tour of duty and returned to London last week. In an interview with Stabroek News before his departure, the diplomat also questioned whether ordinary people understood the “complex” electoral system and said it would be ideal for persons to vote for representatives who they can hold accountable.

Bond expressed amazement at the complexity of the electoral system and noted that it was very expensive as well, though he said he understood some of the past issues for which safeguards were needed, as well as the physical layout of the country. He said he wondered whether ordinary people really saw the translation of their votes into the sort of representative they would want; where Parliament is really seen as representing well the views of ordinary people.

“…Moves towards a sense of people knowing who they are voting for and also knowing who they can hold accountable… having that direct relationship is really, really essential to people feeling that they’re a part of the system,” he stressed.

Meantime, with regard to the Guyana Elections Commission, Bond said that from an outsider’s perspective, it is interesting to see how much involvement the political parties have in the process. While he said he did not have a comment on the decision one way or the other, “I did find the recent reopening of the claims and objections exercise… created an impression that the political parties were very much involved in the process and decision making on that.

“The impression was given that the Chairman of the Electoral Commission was initially opposed to that move and then later gave a different view and my sense is that it would be good for Guyana in the future to move away from a system where the political parties are so closely engaged in the process.”

The diplomat added that Guyana is unusual in the region in this regard.

Bond said even Jamaica has a professional, technocratic commission which works well and he hoped locals and the politicians think about this and look at whether there are ways that the system can actually be improved in the future and made a little bit more accessible to ordinary people.

The closed list system has been raised but the two main political parties have not addressed this, he noted.

It seems unusual, Bond said, for the political parties to decide after the vote who will be their MPs. He said that a lot of ideas have been raised in the past, particularly by electoral observation missions and he hoped that in the future these can be followed up on, but this is not for the UK to do.

With regard to the upcoming elections, Bond said while it was interested in watching the process, the UK would not be directly involved in observation. “There may be scope for a little bit of local observation in tandem with some of the international teams,” he said.

He noted that the European Union will not be fielding an observer mission, but he was pleased that the Commonwealth Secretariat will be sending a team.

The diplomat said the UK has also made some small contributions to activity around the elections and in this regard, pointed to the re-establishment of the Media Monitoring Unit. “I don’t really understand why the unit was closed last year and I’ve seen no really coherent reason for that. But I think … it’s good that that’s being re-established and we will be one of the contributors to the funding of that body,” Bond said. He noted too that the UK is supporting the local EAB observing of the elections.