The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has denounced Stabroek News’s ongoing campaign for local government elections (LGE), saying it is unethical.
At the PPP’s weekly press briefing, held at Freedom House yesterday, party General Secretary Clement Rohee stated that the front page slogans carried daily by the newspaper calling for the PPP/C administration to hold the elections are akin to “pursuing a hard-line political agenda against the government.”
He also accused the newspaper of not publishing the PPP’s various concerns about the holding of the polls, which have not been held since 1994. Under the constitution, the polls are to be held every three years and have been due since 1997.
Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud yesterday said in response to Rohee’s claims that the PPP’s concerns over the holding of local government elections have been fully ventilated in the newspaper and these have since been repudiated by the elections commission and other stakeholders.
Rohee said the PPP was of the firm belief that the Stabroek News was in “serious breach of the journalistic ethics governing the industry by adopting an outright biased position, thus placing the newspaper objectively on the side of the political opposition.”
Persaud in response said there was no breach of journalistic ethics or any exhibition of bias. He said that calling for local government elections must be seen as a duty of the newspaper on behalf of the people. Persaud said that Stabroek News sees the daily slogan on the front page as an invaluable use of the newspaper’s reach in the interest of the nation.
The Editor-in-Chief added “The regular holding of LGE is a fundamental attribute of a democratic society and the engaging of all citizens in public life. Whereas in previous years there had been credible reasons why LGE could not be held, in the last year or so the PPP/C government has had no valid and credible excuse for not naming a date for elections. All of its excuses have been debunked and importantly, the Guyana Elections Commission, the recognized authority on readiness for elections, has on numerous occasions said that all that is required is for the government to fix a date and its work programme will be set in motion. So in essence the PPP/C’s refusal to name a date is a denial of the fundamental right of Guyanese to elect local government leaders.”
In a page one comment on April 30, 2014, Stabroek News had announced its decision to carry on its front page a daily reference to local government elections, as “a way of reminding the PPP/C administration of its obligations.”
“There is no obstacle to the holding of these elections. The budget for 2014 has been passed by Parliament and the Guyana Elections Commission has signalled that it is fully prepared to discharge its mandate once the order is given. It is now for the government to issue the relevant order and it has not to date provided any credible reason as to why this has not yet been done. Its continuing denial of these elections will call into question its commitment to democracy,” the page one comment had stated.
But Rohee charged that the page one slogan has “transformed” Stabroek News into a “political organ [that] can no longer refer to itself as an independent daily newspaper.”
He said that Stabroek News’ “postures on critical issues pertaining to local government elections [have] exposed its efforts at fulfilling the wishes of politicians opposed to the PPP party and government.”
In response to this, Persaud said “The independence of the Stabroek News has been well-established over its 28-year existence and nothing the PPP/C says can detract from this. It is supremely ironic that the Stabroek News was also at the forefront of the campaign for free and fair elections in 1992 at which point the then opposition PPP and Mr Rohee, in his then role as a member of the elections commission, were well in favour of the newspaper’s efforts.”
Rohee said that the media peddles the notion that it was the PPP/C government that has been holding up the running off of the elections, which he denied was the case.
However, recently, President Donald Ramotar admitted that the delay in holding the elections was due to “the political reality” created after the government lost the parliamentary majority at the November 2011 general elections. “I would prefer to go to the local government elections, but I can’t shut my eyes to the political reality that exists and make a bland promise that I will go to local government elections tomorrow as I would have done [if] we had the majority in the parliament at this point in time. And we would not have been in the position that we are in today,” he said at a recent news conference.
While the PPP/C previously held parliamentary majorities, it had engaged with the then main opposition PNCR on a bilateral task force on local government reform. All the parties had agreed that reforming of the local government system were necessary before new elections should be held. The task force was abandoned by the PPP/C government in favour of a parliamentary select committee, where it held the majority, however, the majority of the proposed reform legislation was not passed until last year. Ramotar, however, refused to assent to the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to wrest ministerial control over the local authorities and vest it in the Local Government Commission.
Rohee yesterday declared that the PPP “is ready for these polls,” but afterward noted that the party’s still has concerns about the readiness of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom).
Gecom Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally, however, has said that after the local government minster names a date for the polls, a rollout phase would commence for Gecom’s six-month work plan, which would include voter education.
At a press conference in July, Surujbally had said that Gecom is “fully prepared and committed to move formally into an election mode with immediacy, if and when the Commission is mandated to conduct Local Government Elections.”
In relation to the concern by the government-nominated Gecom commissioners that some constituency boundaries cut across established divisions and sub-divisions, therefore requiring the allocating of existing registrants on the National Register of Registrants to a unique constituency, Surujbally said that the Gecom Secretariat had already dealt with the issue. He said a presentation was made to the Commission on the way forward and Gecom has already given the go ahead. He called on the three commissioners to specifically identify deficiencies in Gecom’s demarcation, delineation and delimitation undertakings.