The Ministry of Communities should not be blamed for low voter turnout at this year’s local government elections, Social Protection Minister Amna Ally said on Friday, while also noting that the failure by the former government to hold the polls for over two decades denied citizens knowledge of their rights and responsibilities in local governance.
“This country has not had local government elections for 22 years. It had virtually been wiped out. This coalition government re-introduced it in 2016. The people of this country have not yet grown accustomed to local government elections,” Ally told a joint APNU and AFC press conference on Friday, at Congress Place, Sophia.
Ally added that it is now a difficult task for government “to break into the electorate that this local democracy will benefit them.”
She was responding to Chief Election Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield’s suggestion earlier on Friday that the Ministry of Communities had a year-round responsibility to help persons understand local governance and its importance.
“In Guyana, there is a ministry which has direct responsibility for the LAA [Local Authority Areas], so there must be some programme that speaks to their efficacy. They have a mandate… it has to be a year-round arrangement that speaks to what is required… this is the benefits [that] accrue; this is how you participate in local government. Go into the Pomeroon and speak to the residents…there is a lot of work to do,” Lowenfield said while addressing low voter turnout at last Monday’s polls.
GECOM on Friday confirmed that 36.3% or 208,534 of the 573,923 registered electors voted, representing a decline of over 10% decline from the 47.1% recorded for the 2016 polls. This year’s polls saw participation decline by over 30,000.
Ally said that no blame should be laid at the feet of Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan.
“This coalition did what they had to do in terms of voter education all across the country. We didn’t have to have Minister Bulkan going to the various regions. We have a cadre of trainers in all the regions. We have had this cadre taking this message to the people in the various locales. I must say that it is going to take some time for us to undo the 22 years that the PPP had us under,” she added.
Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson, who was also present at the press conference, said voter education was an ongoing process that was not just for elections.
While this round of elections was the second consecutive LGEs in the past three years, he said, it was also the third in 45 years. “Obviously we have a lot of work to do to educate men and women on the ground on the benefits of local government,” he said.
Nevertheless, he added that the coalition government would not be deterred in the holding of the elections. By the next local government elections, he suggested, people would see the benefits of local government and they would become more involved. “Voter education is not down to one ministry. It is down to everybody. I would like to dispel rumours that voter education is for Minister Bulkan,” he further said.