The Guyana Elections Commis-sion (Gecom) is in elections mode as local government elections may be held by mid-2014, Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud yesterday announced.
Speaking at a press conference, Persaud said approval has been given to Gecom to display elections-related material within all of the 71 Local authorities comprising the six municipalities and 65 Neighbourhood Demo-cratic Councils (NDCs).
There are even plans to ramp up public awareness exercises and Persaud said regional councillors will also be engaged
so as to ensure that they are clear on issues relating to the electoral system under which the elections are to be held.
He said while an exact date has not been determined, it was safe to assume that the needed preparation will be completed in time to host local government election by mid-2014.
Four local government bills were passed by the National Assembly on August 7. The Local Government Commission Bill, the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, the Fiscal Transfers Bill and the Municipal and District Councils (Amendment) Bill were hailed as instrumental to bringing about local government reform which was supposed to precede local government elections. However, to date these bills have not been assented to and remain in the Chambers of the Attorney General.
Asked why the decision to move ahead with local government elections without President Donald Ramotar assenting to the bills, Persaud, as he had stated before, declared that the four recently passed bills were not imperative for the holding of local government elections.
The legislation that was needed, he told reporters – the Local Government Elections Bill – was passed and assented to in 2009.
The minister was then asked why a decision was taken to hold the elections back then when the necessary bill was passed.
His answer was that the then leader of the PNCR-1G Robert Corbin had asked that local government elections not be held until reform had taken place.
Persaud said that in 2010, the government was ready to hold local government elections, but also saw the importance of having reform, and decided to put off such elections until reform was achieved.
He argued yesterday that even though the bills that flowed from that reform process had not been assented to, which meant their provisions were not binding, that did not mean the reform was not concluded. By making this assertion, the minister suggested that the provisions of the bills have been activated.
But the validity of the minister’s assertions is questionable since Article 170 (6) of Guyana’s Constitution stipulates that “a Bill shall not become law unless it has been duly passed and assented to in accordance with this Constitution.”
Meanwhile, Gecom’s fifth cycle of registration is ongoing and the minister said the data collected from this process will be used to create the preliminary voters’ list.
Addressing claims that the government was afraid to hold local government polls any time soon, Persaud said he considered elections next year a prime opportunity to improve the government’s standing.
There are continuous complaints about the inefficiency of the local authorities, he said, and suggested that elections would provide an opportunity to replace the inefficient with the efficient.