Gecom’s reliance on the government for funds undermines its independence

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Constitution lays down somewhere that elections shall be independently supervised by the Elections Commission.

The present conflict over the reopening of registration seems to raise the whole issue of the independence of the commission. Can a commission which is not independent, act independently?  Bad question. Can a commission lacking the tools of independence act independently? The answer must be that it may do so at times, or when there is not a conflict.

If elections based on the regular registration of voters are to be independently supervised by Gecom, then how can a report carried by Demerara Waves make sense? That online agency reported, “Government has already said that money is available to fund the new period”(July 17, 2011).

Do we all see the same thing in such a statement?  I do not recall such a statement being made when the opposition forces had requested something like an extension of the Claims and Objections period.  The request was denied we were told on June 8, 2011 by the commission acting “unanimously” (Stabroek News).

Is it that the commission acted with one voice then and denied the request because money was not available? And is it that the commission will now reconsider a similar request or a request with the same effect made this time by the ruling party and arrive at another decision?

In the discussion on power-sharing and shared governance or inclusive government supporters of the ruling party have sometimes referred to the back door.

Do some requests coming to Gecom enter through the back door, while others enter through the front door? And how does the doorkeeper respond to the requests from either door? Politics apart, do those coming through the front door come with money guaranteed and those coming through the back door come without money guaranteed and therefore dead on arrival?

There was speculation or anticipation that in the event of a tie among the commission’s members, the Chairman of Gecom would use his casting vote to break the tie.

There was no reason for a casting vote when it was clear than there was no money to carry out the measure requested by the opposition parties.

There is a widespread notion that the government relies on its money power to solve any number of its problems. This constitutional arrangement that allows the Gecom to depend on the Office of the President for funds and cash flows is unhelpful in itself and weakens the commission’s independence.

It also fits in with the regime’s preference to manage money, decisions, and opinions centrally.

Although the Elections Commission has no guarantee of financial independence the same constitution discriminates against the Elections Commission. It lists seven agencies in the Third Schedule. These agencies in the words and intention of Article numbered 222 A in my edition of the constitution manage their subventions “as they see fit.”  Residents will know better than I whether at any time the Office of the President has pronounced on money available or not available to these agencies.

Not ready to believe that members of Gecom would go on record as favouring a recommendation only when it comes from the ruling party and rejecting it when it comes from others, I have been searching for something in the way the system works to try and account for their behaviour. Time, however, will tell where the members and Gecom stand, and how independent they are.

Yours faithfully,
Eusi Kwayana

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