PNCR Leader Robert Corbin yesterday called on the Guyana Elections Commis-sion (Gecom) to discharge its constitutional responsibility to ensure free and fair elections asking specifically that the commission respond favourably to public concerns regarding the suspension of CNS Channel 6 and the appointment of the Returning Officer for Region Four.
Speaking during a press briefing yesterday at Congress Place, Corbin noted that Gecom is constitutionally required to ensure the efficient management and conduct of free, fair and transparent elections.
Article 162 (1) (b) states that Gecom “shall issue such instructions and take such action as appear to it necessary or expedient to ensure impartiality, fairness and compliance with the provisions of this Constitution of any Act of Parliament on the part of persons exercising powers or performing duties connected with or relating to the matters aforesaid.”
Corbin said he has brought to the attention of Gecom Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally certain matters which will affect the free and fair conduct of the upcoming elections. “Unless these matters are speedily addressed, the conduct of free and fair elections in 2011 would be placed in jeopardy and contesting parties must seriously consider the implications of these matters,” he said.
According to Corbin, an essential condition for free and fair elections is equal access to the media for contesting parties. “It is no secret that access to the state controlled media by persons holding non-government views has been continually denied by the National Communications Network (NCN),” Corbin said.
(The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) yesterday called on opposition parties to boycott the upcoming polls unless “minimum standards” to guarantee free expression and equal access to media are in place. [See story on page 11]) He added that even more alarming is the misuse of the nationally owned media by the PPP for “partisan political commentary, disguised as news or public information.
“The recent suspension of CNS TV Channel 6, for whatever reason, in the midst of the election period represents the most recent assault against non-government parties and their constitutional right to propagate their views to the electorate at this time,” Corbin said. CNS Channel 6, the PNCR leader said, “provided an alternative to contesting parties to present their views to the electorate in the face of the PPP government’s monopoly over the State controlled NCN radio and television.” The suspension of this station at this time and its implications for free and fair elections cannot escape the government and, more particularly, President Jagdeo, irrespective of the justification being advanced for this action.
Corbin also rejected President Jagdeo’s justification for his recent action saying that the credibility and legality of the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) as currently constituted was questionable.
He said that President Jagdeo had refused to permit him to name a new nominee after it had been indicated that the party’s original nominee Ron Chase (who had been nominated by (the late opposition leader Desmond Hoyte) had lost the confidence of the party.
“It is significant that President Jagdeo, who refused to act upon my notification, proceeded to name a new Chairman of the ACB, [Evan Persaud replaced Pat Dyal], and to appoint a new nominee of the Private Sector Commission, [Norman McLean replaced Carlton James], without giving the Leader of the Opposition an opportunity to name a new nominee or even notify him of the above changes,” Corbin lamented.
Corbin said that while Case continued to serve on the committee, a recent letter he(Case) sent to the President indicated he had been incapacitated for more than two years and had been unable to function on the committee.
According to Corbin, he had filed a Writ in the High Court on May 31 seeking several declarations including, “a declaration that Mr Case was not a nominee of the leader of the opposition on the ACB; a declaration that the ACB is not a duly constituted body” under the relevant Act.
Regulation 23B (1) (b), made under Section 63(5) of the Postal and Telegraph Act, Chapter 47:01; and, an Order declaring all acts, decisions and / or recommendations purportedly done and / or made by the ACB to be null, void and of no legal effect. He said that this was the same day he saw the correspondence from Case.
Jagdeo, Corbin said, was “being more than disingenuous when he informed the media, at his recent press briefing, that he was acting on recommendations of this discredited ACB and, moreover, that this purported ACB comprised a nominee of the leader of the opposition.
Further, Corbin expressed concern over the reluctance of Gecom to take seriously the representation made to them by several contesting parties about the appointment of the Returning Officer for Region Four, Demerara/Mahaica. “If the elections are to be free, fair and transparent, it is important that those managing the electoral process enjoy the confidence of the contesting parties,” he said.
“If Gecom is to enjoy the confidence of the contesting parties and earn the respect of Guyanese, they must demonstrate a responsiveness to public concerns, particularly those of the contesting parties,” he added.