GECOM should establish impartial body to oversee redrawing of boundaries within NDCs

Dear Editor,

In the 2016 Local Government Elections, the PPP/C won most of the Local Government Areas. This was very disconcerting to the Granger Government, which has resorted to several ploys in trying to manipulate the next Local Government Elections scheduled for 12th November 2018. If these ploys succeed, it will disenfranchise people, damage local democracy, and further erode trust in GECOM as an independent arbiter in elections.

The Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan, made an Order under the Local Authorities Act Cap 28.03, on the 7th June 2018,  section 38A of  which pertains to, “the name of each local authority, the total number of seats, the number of councillors in respect of the “proportional representation” component, and the number of constituencies and councillors in respect of the “first past the post” component…” On closer examination of the Schedule attached to the Order, there are vast differences between this Schedule and the one published in 2015 elections. Using his ministerial powers, Ronald Bulkan has reduced the allocation of the seats to several existing NDCs, these include:

1. Evergreen/ Paradise was decreased from 18 to 16 seats – Region #2

2. Aberdeen/ Zorg en Vlygt were reduced from 18 to 16 seats – Region #2

3. Good Hope/ Pomona was decreased from 18 to 16 seats – Region #2

4. Malgre Tout/ Meer Zorgen were reduced from 16 to 14 seats – Region #3

5. La Grange/ Nismes were reduced from 18 to 14 seats – Region #3

6. Toevlugt/ Patentia were reduced from 18 to 16 seats – Region #3

7. Caledonia/ Good Success was decreased from 18 to 14 seats – Region #4

8. Woodlands/ Farm was reduced from 16 to 14 seats – Region #5

9. Mahaicony / Abary was reduced from 18 to 16 seats – Region #5

10. Blairmont / Gilderland were reduced from 18 to 14 seats – Region # 5

11. Zeelust/ Rosignal were reduced from 18 to 14 seats – Region #5

12. Ordnance / Fortlands were reduced from 16 to 14 seats – Region #6

13. Adventure/ Bushlot were reduced from 14 to 12 seats – Region #6

14. Number 52/74 villages were cut from 18 to 16 seats – Region #6

In his decision to reduce the seats, the Minister did not conduct any consultations with the residents in the affected NDCs or any stakeholders such as political parties or civic groups. The Minister did not provide any rationale as to the reasons for his decisions. The effect of the Minister’s decisions is that the boundaries within these NDCs would have to be reconfigured to accommodate these ministerial instructions. This secretive and unilateral act by this Minister is viewed by many as a move to introduce gerrymandering of the boundaries to create unfair advantages for the ruling party.

To give effect to these Ministerial instructions, GECOM is using section 38a (5) of the Act which states that “the Elections Commission may by order combine or subdivide one or more electoral divisions to form a constituency for the purpose of electing members of that Local Authority.” Using these broad guidelines, GECOM has commenced a process of reconfiguring the boundaries within the NDCs.

From the feedback, that I have received, it seems that the residents of the affected NDCs were not consulted by GECOM on any proposed changes to constituency boundaries. The public is unaware of the process and criteria that GECOM intends to use in carrying out these ministerial instructions.

In all of the NDCs mentioned it is alleged that GECOM has already made decisions on how these boundaries will be reconfigured. These proposals have not been formally disseminated to communities, nor have residents and stakeholders been afforded an opportunity to scrutinise them. To make matters worse, the Maps and Constituencies boundaries mounted by GECOM, for the 2016 Local Government elections are still on display in the above mentioned NDCs.

Nevertheless, analysing the limited available information one can readily conclude that many of the proposed boundary changes are in favour of the ruling party. If this is indeed the case, then GECOM is no longer an impartial arbiter of the elections, and this can have severe consequences in undermining our fragile electoral system.

With the Local Government elections set for 12th November 2018, and with statutory deadlines in play, there is an urgent need for GECOM to do the following:

1. Establish an impartial oversight body to oversee the redrawing of the boundaries within the NDCs.

2. Publish the criteria for boundary apportionment to be used in the NDCs.

3. Publish the process that would be used in the reconfiguration of the boundaries within the NDCs.

4. Allow for meaningful consultation with residents and other stakeholders on the proposed boundary changes.

If implemented, these simple measures can go a long way in preventing manipulation of the process and restoring some confidence in GECOM. For the sake of local democracy, I do hope that good sense can prevail.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Frank Anthony

PPP/C MP

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