A special committee could be established to recommend improvements to the functionality of the Elections Commission

Dear Editor,

In my last letter, dated March 29 (‘It is true I am a protagonist…’), I advocated that the methodology for choosing and placing Commissioners on the Guyana Elections Commis-sion (Gecom) must undergo serious repair and restoration.  Because I had foreseen this imbroglio in which the government and political parties now find themselves, a study was commissioned as early as September 2005 to deal, inter alia, with this very issue. The report, which was shared with political parties, is also in the offices of the Gecom Chairman and the Chief Election Officer. The study was carried out by a genuine and renowned legal luminary (specializing in electoral law), Mr Carl Dundas, who was also a former Chief Election Officer of Jamaica.  Mr Dundas who was sponsored by the Commonwealth Secretariat (ComSec) delivered to Gecom a collection of methods for establishing an Elections Commission in other countries, including ComSec member states.

One should also recall that the UNDP has also recently brought in a team (just over a few weeks ago) to meet with stakeholders and to suggest whether and in which areas constitutional reform is needed.  Stake-holders may wish to look at that team’s proposals, if and when the report is made public — as it should be.

Even now, in order to immediately commence with tangible undertakings which could lead to a solution of the problem, may I suggest that a special commission/committee be established, the scope of work, terms of reference and the list of duties of which could include considerations dealing with the following:

1)  The number of Commissioners; for example, five, including the Chairperson

2)   How long members may sit on the Commission ‒ for example, should the entire Commission be automatically dissolved, say one month after elections; or after sitting for a pre-defined period during the inter-electoral years

3) The Chairperson could be appointed (based on clear, unambiguous prerequisites), or he/she could be voted into the position by the Com-missioners themselves. The Chair-person could rotate after every year

4) There must be a Deputy Chair-person, who could chair Gecom meetings during the absence of the substantive Chairperson.  In fact, it could be arranged that the Deputy Chairperson could automatically become Chairperson, when the Chairperson-for-a-year returns to being an ordinary Commissioner

5)  The changes may include a specific number of political party representatives, who may not vote on issues, but who could contribute to the general discussion on any subject matter and, above all, be made aware of the decisions and how the latter have been arrived at.

6)  The Constitution or statute law must dictate clearly what the Commission can and cannot do, for example:

(i) The functions of the new Gecom Commissioners may be limited to their discussions geared to determining best practice undertakings, which are reflective of and in consonance with internationally accepted, tested and proven policies,                                 but do not include the active management of the electoral processes.

(ii)  The Chief Election Officer must be the Accounting Officer and the custodian of Gecom’s finances.  To what degree Commissioners may or may not be directly involved in the accountability and monitoring of expenditure of monies will have                                 to be established, bearing in mind that such invigilation should really be the job of the  Ministry of Finance (Minister, Permanent Secretary, Director of Budget, Procurement Sub-Committees, etc) and the National Assembly’s Public Accounts  Committee (PAC), and the Auditor General’s Office

(iii) The new law could mandate that the Commission (the primary job which is to formulate policy) advise on the recruitment of (or it can seek advice from) technical experts from Guyana or abroad in specific instances, for example in the                  areas of electronic registration, voting and the transmission/delivery of elections results in a timely manner

7)    The new law could dictate that a certain percentage (eg two or three out of five) of the Commissioners should be women

8) Civil society/private sector/ legal luminaries/technocrats could be assured places on the Commission.

9)   The governing principle must be that the Gecom Commission should be composed of persons who have the confidence of relevant facets of society. They should have the trust of political parties, but not be drawn from them. Selfish party interests must be removed from the process.  It is compulsory to select persons not on the basis of political affiliations, but on the basis of their high, tested and proven standing in society. They should be persons who carry moral authority and are known for their political neutrality, wisdom and common sense.  Such people still exist in Guyana. Whether such persons would want to be members of the Guyana Elections Commission is another matter entirely.  It is perhaps advisable, but not compulsory, to include a senior and respected member of the judiciary.  What matters most, however, must be the proven impartiality, integrity and competence of those selected to undertake this onerous task.

10)   The criteria and procedures governing the composition of, and appointment to, the Commission as well as those for disqualification or removal must be clearly spelled out in a constitutional amendment or in statute law.

11) The proposed special commission/ committee (prior to the establishment of a new Elections Commission) would have to review the currently relevant Articles (161(I); 161(B); 164(I); 164(2) (b), etc), prepare a draft set of rules and regulations for public scrutiny and public debate (referendum?) before the eventual Act comes into being.

As I have stated at the very commencement, the (guiding, not all-encompassing) ideas documented above are constructed with the sole motive of improving the functionality of and ameliorating the trust in the Guyana Elections Commission.  There is no question about “undermining” the Constitution. One does not have to agree with or accept the suggestions above, but, at least, there should be dialogue on the matter.

Yours faithfully,

Steve Surujbally

Former Chairman of the Guyana

Elections Commission

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