GECOM already has access to money for elections, the three-month period is not unusual

Dear Editor,

GECOM and the Ministry of Finance seem to be engaged in an effort to mislead the public of Guyana over the availability and use of funds approved in the 2019 Budget to conduct elections pursuant to the March 21 vote of No Confidence. Putting up one road block after another, it was not until the middle of February – around the halfway stage of the three-month deadline mandated for the holding of elections – did GECOM seem to need clarification on whether or not it could spend any part of the 2019 allocation of $5,371,061,000 on the elections.

An article in the Stabroek News of February 19, 2019 which quotes Finance Ministry officials, is headlined “GECOM needs parliamentary approval to use budget for new polls.” That this is not true goes charitably to the question of competence and the ability of the Ministry’s officials to read and understand, or more sinisterly, to its intention to become part of the conspiracy by elements of GECOM to frustrate the vote of the National Assembly. 

Following a 2015 amendment to the Schedule to the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, GECOM does not qualify as a Budget Agency and any question about any restriction on the variation of its 2019 appropriation does not arise. This much was confirmed by Finance Minister Winston Jordan at the 99th sitting of the National Assembly held on Monday, 19th November, 2018 at which both Ministry and GECOM officials were present in the Assembly. Did they not hear when Jordan, in answer to a question from Mr. Mustapha from the PPP/C, announced in unambiguous language (yes, there is still such a thing in Guyana) that “The sum of $5,371,061,000 is given as a lump sum to GECOM to use as it sees fit and as it prioritises.”

In other words, there is no need to go back to the National Assembly or to trigger some virement as suggested by GECOM Commissioner Vincent Alexander. It is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a pattern of cynical ploys by the Government-nominated Commissioners and President Granger’s handpicked Chairman to delay the elections even if it means committing a breach of a constitutional duty for which they each bear personal responsibility.

As to the use of funds by GECOM, the Finance Ministry is fully aware that the Constitution provides for a Contingencies Fund, administered by the Minister of Finance, of up to a total of two percent of the estimated annual expenditure of the last preceding fiscal year. Table 1 of the 2019 Estimates of the Public Sector titled Summary of Revenue and Expenditure of the Central Government for the year 2018 was $270 billion so 2% of that would be $5.4 billion.

And as to GECOM’s readiness and any comparisons with previous elections, we need to understand context – Guyana came close to but never actually had to have elections under Article 106 (7) following a vote of no confidence. This imposes a duty on the President to call such elections by way of a Proclamation (Article 61) and on GECOM a mandate to independently supervise those elections (Article 62). The reason for the mandatory outside time is because the Government has been reduced to one principal purpose, the holding of elections as set out in the Explanatory Memorandum to Bill 14 of 2000 which was passed unanimously by the National Assembly and enacted as Act 17 of 2000.

Further on GECOM’s readiness, I reminded the public in a previous letter, that said six days after the No Confidence vote, GECOM announced that it was ready and able to discharge its constitutional duty. That changed however when the PNCR sent its signals and used its functionaries in GECOM to stall the elections. GECOM has not been able to convince anyone that a list good for the Local Elections in November 2018 and that remains valid up to April 2019 is somehow unfit for general and regional elections by March 21.

Instead of playing games with the Constitution and GECOM, if the President so wanted, he could have sought the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition to have an Article 106 (7) extension to April 30, name an elections date and dissolve the Parliament (which is the National Assembly plus he). Had he done so, instead of the three months required under Article 106 (7), GECOM would have had four months and one week to prepare for and manage those elections – more than enough time for an effective Claims and Objections exercise to ensure that the List is sufficiently clean to ensure that no one is denied her/his right to vote.

GECOM which has been very selective in its public arrogance, sorry engagement, has so far not acknowledged that in the case of every election, Article 61 allows only three months between the dissolution of the Parliament and the holding of elections. In other words, the three months period required under Article 106 (7) is not an unusual or contracted period as many people seem to believe. In any case, it is now one hundred and nineteen days since the No Confidence Motion was tabled and eighty two days since the Motion was passed. In that time, all GECOM seems to have done, if its statements are reliable, is to have made a few uninformed, inane and misleading statements.

As to this talk about bloated list, Mr. Alexander is aware that dead people voting died with Burnham and that GECOM, its officials, polling agents and observers have been sufficiently diligent in ensuring that votes are validly cast by legal living voters.

Again I ask, is it comprehension, competence, conspiracy or a combination thereof?    

Yours faithfully,

Christopher Ram

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