Court sets timetable for challenge to contentious local gov’t changes

Justice Gino Persaud yesterday set timelines for hearing the challenge mounted by Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) commissioner Bibi Shadick. Shadick to the activation of seven new local government areas (LGAs) and the restructuring of 14 others.

By way of an application for judicial review—the first known one since the recent operationalisation of the Judicial Review Act—Shadick has asked the court to grant orders to quash decisions made by both Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan and Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield and to order them to rectify their violations.

Advancing the urgent need for the matter to be resolved, given that it has implications for the impending November 12th local government elections, Shadick’s attorney, Anil Nandlall, begged the court at a case management conference yesterday to accommodate his application for expeditious hearings and conclusion of the matter. He told the court that while he did not want to impose on its workload and hearings for other cases, especially given that Shadick’s matter is a fixed date application, the matter needs to be heard with urgency.

While agreeing that the matter warrants urgent attention, however, Solicitor General Kim Kyte-Thomas, who is representing Bulkan, against whom the matter is brought, reminded that hearing timetables also needed to conform to the Judicial Review Act (JRA).

Attorneys on both sides acknowledged not being very familiar with the newly enforced JRA and its specific timelines.

Listed as the second-named respondent, Lowenfield is being represented by attorney Roysdale Forde.

Given their collective submissions, Justice Persaud granted the respondents no later than September 28th to file and serve on the applicants their affidavits in defence. The matter is then returnable to court for October 8th for reports and fixtures for oral arguments. By that time also, Nandlall is to have already filed his responses to the defences if need be.

Shadick is contending that activation of the new LGAs and restructuring of the 14 others effected collectively by Bulkan and Lowenfield are not only unlawful but would render all voting in them at the upcoming polls void. Shadick is asking the court for orders quashing decisions made by both respondents and ordering them to rectify their violations.

Bulkan has since said that he has acted within the ambit of the law and dismissed the case as baseless, while adding that the opposition PPP, of which Shadick is a member, by its actions and track record has demonstrated to the Guyanese people that it has no interest in local democracy. “They are unprepared to lead so they will either have to follow or step aside,” he has said. 

Nandlall is arguing that Bulkan has failed to comply with statutory provisions for the holding of the elections, which in turn can result in a court setting the entire elections aside for being “null and void, unlawful and illegal.”

He said that while statute prescribes certain responsibilities for both the Minister and CEO to discharge in relation to local government elections, Bulkan failed/omitted to follow procedures stipulated for the creation of new Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs), and the creation of new seats in existing LGAs as well as seats in the new NDCs in the manner that the law prescribes.

Shadick is contending that the Minister altered existing boundaries within existing LGAs without any attempt to consult with important stakeholders, including the electors or the political parties. “We believe that such a process must involve consulting with the relevant stakeholders,” Nandlall has said. 

The applicant is also arguing that the CEO has no power to fix boundaries for the new NDCs created by the Minister. This, she says, is a power of the Minister himself.

The new NDCs are: Moruka/Phoenix Park; Kitty/ Providence; Nile/Cozier; Lamaha/Yarowkabra; Hauraruni/Yarowkabra; Plegt Anker/Kortberaad; and Wyburg/Caracas. The areas that were restructured were Rose Hall; Evergreen/Paradise; Aberdeen/Zorg-en-Vlygt; Malgre Tout/Meerzorgen; La Grange/Nismes; Toevlugt/ Patentia; Caledonia/Good Success; Woodlands/Farm; Mahaicony/Abary; Zeelust/Rosignol; Blairmont/Gelderland; Ordnance Fortlands/No. 38; Adventure/Bushlot; and No. 52 – 74.

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