Following the extension of the medical leave of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman James Patterson, 85, the opposition-nominated commissioners yesterday voiced concern that it could be a ploy to delay the holding of general and regional elections, which they say are now due within 90 days following the passage of a no-confidence motion against the government.
“We cannot be unmindful of a possible situation existing where the said extension of illness is a ploy designed to delay the holding of General and Regional Elections within the constitutionally determined 90-day timeframe consequent on the previously referenced Resolution of the National Assembly,” commissioners Robeson Benn, Sase Gunraj and Bibi Shadick said yesterday in a press release, where they also wished Patterson a speedy and full recovery.
Patterson has not been to work since November 30th.
The commissioners said that on January 7th, Patterson circulated an agenda for yesterday’s statutory meeting.
“We responded to this proposed agenda by requesting the inclusion of ‘GECOM Preparations for Elections’ as a priority issue for consideration at the said meeting,” they said.
The inclusion of this agenda item, they explained, was expected as a consequence of the resolution on the no-confidence motion of December 21st, 2018 in the National Assembly.
Less than three hours before the 1 pm meeting, the commissioners said, “there was the sudden, and surprising, telephone announcement that the Chairman was unwell and that his medical leave had been extended.”
They added that a subsequent GECOM media advisory stated that Patterson’s “medical leave has been extended following a visit to his doctor on January 7, 2019.”
It is passing strange, they said, “that this information was not passed on to all Commissioners on January 7, 2019.”
The three commissioners also urged that GECOM “be alert to its duty and responsibilities as mandated by the Constitution and that no action be undertaken to subvert these wittingly.”
In the meanwhile, they said, the holding of meetings of the sub-committees of GECOM should resume to discuss, determine and guide GECOM’s actions and schedules necessary for the holding of elections in the constitutionally mandated 90-day timeframe.
They called on civil society and the international community to take note and be vigilant with respect to the unfolding situation at GECOM.
In an interview prior to the issuance of the release, Shadick told Stabroek News that the cancellation of the statutory meeting will affect vital decisions to be made in relation to the upcoming national and elections as well as discussions on reports coming out of the last local government elections.
GECOM’s operations sub-committee, she said, is due to meet to formalise a work plan for the upcoming elections. Neither of the two co-chairmen of that committee could be reached by phone yesterday.
Shadick is of the view that GECOM could run off the elections because of its successful holding of the local government elections in November last year.
The voters’ list, one of the most important features of the elections, she said, is valid from October 31st, 2018 to April 30th, 2019.
In an earlier interview, she had told this newspaper that the machinery and staff that GECOM used in the 2018 local government elections could work again.
For the areas that were not covered in the November 2018 elections, she said, “we have enough trained staff to manage those areas. GECOM can pull off an elections in one month.”
Stabroek News was unable to contact any of the government-nominated commissioners by phone yesterday.
However, government-appointed commissioner Desmond Trotman in a letter in the December 30 edition of Stabroek News in response to Shadick’s statement said that as far as he was aware there has been no allocation of funds to hold elections in Guyana in 2019.
“I am therefore concerned how and where the funds will come from and am therefore looking forward to a resolution to this issue. Presumably, this will be one of the issues which will engage President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo when they meet to discuss the way forward”.
He added that Shadick seems to believe that there is no need to address the existing senior staff vacancies prior to the holding of the elections.
“I disagree with her view on this matter … Filling those positions are extremely critical to ensuring that GECOM has the enhanced capacity to conduct the elections, notwithstanding the fact that that body was able to successfully conduct the 2018 Local Government Elections (LGE). Let us be clear on one thing LGEs and General and Regional elections are different types of elections with the results of the latter being more impacting on the life of a country, in this instance”, he added.
He stated that the successful conduct of the 2018 LGE was nothing short of a miracle by the Chief Election Officer and his staff.
“They deserve the highest praise and compliments for performing over and beyond the call of duty. But executing the elections successfully was not without some serious jeopardies. Ms. Shadick is wrong. There were some major difficulties in the holding of the LGE. The reasons for some of them still have to be determined. GECOM, however, is being asked to carry out even more important elections without being given the opportunity to ascertain how and why some of the problems occurred and putting in place remedies to prevent occurrences in the affected areas”, Trotman said.
He also argued that it is pre-emptive and probably contemptuous for anyone to pronounce on GECOM`s state of readiness without first allowing the Secretariat to examine what are its needs, including the time required to conduct an unscheduled and unbudgeted for elections.
Meanwhile, when asked yesterday if GECOM could hold general and regional elections by March 21st, GECOM Public Relations Officer Yolanda Ward told Stabroek News, “I am not sure.”
She said that a number of things have to happen before elections are called.
First of all, she said, the executive will have to inform GECOM that it would like to hold the elections within a specific period and would ask for advice on the most suitable time. GECOM has not been notified by the executive of its desire to hold national and regional elections, she said.
Once that is done, she said, the commission will deliberate whether or not it could meet the deadline proposed by the government. Based on their deliberations, GECOM would then make its recommendations.
Given the current scenario in which the government has moved to the courts to settle the issue of the legality of the vote of no confidence passed against it and the outcome of today’s scheduled meeting between President David Granger and Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo, she said, GECOM was alert to what is taking place and was ready to move forward with whatever processes were necessary.
No statutory meeting of the commission, she said, has been called or held for the holding of any elections since the approval of the no-confidence motion.