More than seven months after the last piece of legislation postponing local government elections expired, Cabinet is yet to discuss bringing such legislation back to the National Assembly.
Local government elections have not been held in over twenty years. However each year the National Assembly can put off the elections until a prescribed date. The needed legislation was tabled by government this year, but was then amended and passed by the opposition parties using their majority, and President Donald Ramotar refused to sign it.
Asked last week when government plans to bring another such bill to ensure conformity with the constitution, Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker said the decision is one for Cabinet to make, and that it is yet to consider the matter.
The Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill is the requisite legislative instrument for postponing local government elections and earlier this year government laid such legislation in the National Assembly seeking to postpone said elections to December 1, 2014 or any date before then.
When the bill came up on February 10th for second reading, the Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) however had said that there had been enough delay and a motion to amend the legislation, moved by APNU MP Ronald Bulkan and passed by the National Assembly, stipulated that local government elections must be held by August 1. The government did not support the amendment and after it was passed it languished in the office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (CPC) in the Attorney General’s Chambers for some time before it was sent to Ramotar, who eventually declined on June 2nd, 2014 to affix his signature on the grounds that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) had publicly declared that it was impractical to hold local government elections on or before August 1. Had the bill been swiftly assented to by the President, elections would have been possible by August 1st based on GECOM’s timeline.
The National Assembly’s staff had sent the bill in the first instance directly to the president in an effort to eliminate the delay experienced in the past getting legislation to the president’s desk for speedy action. However the bill was thereafter sent to Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s Chambers as, despite arguments to the contrary, he maintains that he must study such legislation before advising the president on what decision to make.
The opposition and others continue to challenge this practice since the AG’s Chambers is usually involved in the drafting of the legislation in the first place.
Currently there is no legislation postponing local government elections and observers have said that government is in unconstitutional waters. GECOM Commissioner Vincent Alexander has suggested that the president should have signed the legislation passed by the National Assembly and allowed GECOM, based on its readiness, to decide whether the August 1 date was practical or not.
Alexander suggested that the president intentionally waited until the last possible moment to say he would not sign the bill because of GECOM’s inability to make the necessary preparations.
Observers say that once the President had signified his non-assent, it behoved the government to immediately bring a new bill.
Meanwhile, the debate on GECOM’s readiness continues. Voices from the government and the the People’s Progressive Party/Civic commissioners on the elections body have declared that much more is required before readiness for local government elections can be confirmed. However this has been denied by GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally who says the commission is ready for local elections.
Voices from the opposition parties have accused government and the ruling party of intentionally delaying the elections.