Ms Laura George’s letter to SN titled ‘There is government interference in some Amerindian Village Council elections‘ (April 6) is spot on about the present Toshaos‘ election process which has been raising eyebrows among villagers in many communities for its blatant politicking by the PPP/C.
This elections process is supposed to be democratic without any undue interference from political parties, but it is clear that the PPP/C is manipulating the system to their advantage. It would be worthwhile for the EAB to investigate the process of the Toshaos‘ elections to determine if it is transparent and if the interests of the people are being truly recognized.
Some issues highlighted about the present system are as follows:-
1) Nominations and elections of Toshaos and councillors are overseen by the senior executives of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) for which the Regional Executive Officer (REO) is the Returning Officer. These senior executives are all political appointees and hence have political bias. When these officers visit the villages they often attempt to influence the decision of the people through their authority. They are in a position to (mis)interpret the Amerindian Act to prevent people whom they deem “opposition” from running for Toshao. These officers could also verbally influence the people against voting for any ‘opposition’ nominee.
2) There is a vast disparity in the interpretation of the Amerindian Act by the various RDC officials who conduct nominations. This results in different communities having nominations under different guidelines. For example, one community is told that persons nominated for Toshao cannot run for councillor while in other communities a different returning officer will accept nominations for Toshao and/or councillor from the same person. There was another issue where a nominee was told that he could not run for Toshao because he had resigned from the previous council, while the Act clearly stipulates the conditions under which this clause is to be implemented. At another location a villager who was forced to resign for financial irregularities from the previous council was accepted as a nominee. The general assumption is that the RDC officials are not properly educated on the Amerindian Act to hold good elections due to their lack of knowledge of the Act and its interpretation.
3) There was recently the appointment of Community Development Officers (CDOs) in the Central and South Rupununi. These officers are the liaison between the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and Amerindian communities and hold much influence over the villages and are integrally involved in the Toshaos‘ elections. These vacancies are public service appointments and were advertised in the newspapers. Yet some appointments were made without the applicants and the appointees were all PPP/C members. One appointee even went so far as to boast that his political connections got him the job in front of more qualified applicants.
From the above issues it is clear that it is very easy for any political majority to influence the Toshaos‘ election process. It is time that this process becomes more transparent and democratic. This is where the EAB should play a leading role. They should monitor this elections process and make recommendations on how to improve the system.
There is also need for better oversight of the elections process. The present method of local RDC officers overseeing the process is woefully inadequate since they are not properly trained to undertake this task. Consideration should be given for the body responsible for elections – Gecom – or some similar impartial body – to undertake these elections.
The government is getting unfettered access to/control of the election of Toshaos though its control of the leadership of certain RDCs. Consideration should be given to tempering this obvious imbalance with the addition of opposition members as part of the team. This can be done from right within the RDC structure which has both government and opposition members on its board.
It is also very important to note that the Amerindian population is the third largest in the country and holds vital electoral sway in any close national elections. As such it is politically advantageous to have Toshaos who can influence their people in voting a certain way. Hence, the appointment of these Toshaos also has much national significance and importance and thus these elections should be better monitored to ensure that there is no political bias in the system.
(Name and address provided)