Five months after the passing of city councillor Junior Garrett and four months after the Council announced the vacancy for his seat the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has not directed that a by-election be called to fill the vacancy as required by law.
On January 26, Garrett, one of 15 constituency councillors died suddenly and on February 12 Town Clerk Royston King duly announced the vacancy for his seat. A letter was dispatched to GECOM on that same date according to King, who told this newspaper that his office received a signed receipt for the correspondence.
Stabroek News reached out to Chief Election Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield to ask if a by-election would be called to fill Garrett’s seat and was directed to the Chairman of the Commission. According to the response received from the CEO’s office it is for the commission to direct the CEO to call a by-election and no such directive was received.
GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj later indicated that the commission was never formally informed of Garrett’s death.
“I can say with certainty that no request has ever come to the commission to consider a by-election for that seat,” he said.
According to Gunraj the procedure is for the Town Clerk to inform the CEO who would then forward the correspondence to the commission.
Justice (Retired) James Patterson, GECOM Chair, also indicated that he has “seen no such letter” and “the commission has not discussed” the matter.
Meanwhile, the residents of Constituency 3 (Bel Air Gardens, Bel Air Springs, Prashad Nagar, North East & North West Campellville) are without representation at the level of the City Council.
Councillors Alfred Mentore and Akeem Peters whose constituencies border Constituency 3 have stepped in to offer help in the interim.
Mentore who represents Constituency 4 (Lamaha Gardens, Newtown, Campbellville, Section K Campbellville and Bel Air Park) explained that he felt compelled to step forward and ensure that Garrett’s constituency was able to benefit from a $57 million grant that the Ministry of Communities has provided for the funding of constituency projects.
“I got permission from the council to offer help. At the end of the day they need representation. I believe that residents should not be left out because a man has died. If we had not acted the council would’ve failed the people,” he explained.
According to Mentore after consulting with residents and community leaders including Hazel Pindar and Astell Collins they settled on the refurbishing of the basketball court in the Campbellville Housing Scheme, installation of lights in the area and the clearing of various drainage canals within the constituency. The proposal priced at $4.9 million has already been approved by the Ministry of Communities and is set to be implemented in the coming weeks.
Garrett, who served nearly 16 years as a councillor died a mere 11 months before Local Government Elections (LGE) are legally required.
A longstanding member of the People’s National Congress (PNCR), he was narrowly elected to represent Constituency 3 at the March 2016 LGE. He was able to secure 794 of the 1653 of the valid votes cast coming out ahead of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic’s Ramchandra Kissoon who secured 722 votes. Andrew Ramcharran of Team Benschop For Mayor secured the remaining 137 votes.
In relation to his death the Municipal and District Councils Act (Chapter 28:01) specifies that Town Clerk Royston King must announce that his seat is now vacant.
According to Section 43(1) “wherever a vacancy occurs in an office of councillor the Town Clerk shall report the same at the next meeting of the council and publish notice thereof.”
Further steps for filling the vacancy are outlined in the Local Authorities (Elections) Act. Specifically, Section 53A (1) of the Act as amended in 2015 clearly states that a by-election should be held if a constituency councillor dies before the end of their term.
“Where a vacancy for a councillor in respect of the first past the post number of councillors in a Local Government Area occurs as a result of death…the clerk of the council shall after compliance with the provisions of Section 43(1) of the Municipal and District Councils Act inform the Elections Com-mission which shall instruct the Chief Election Officer to hold a by-election and the Chief Election Officer shall carry out the instructions thereof,” the act states.