April 9, 2007
With the Rio Summit over and the Guyana leg of the super eights scheduled to end today there are several major tasks ahead which the public expects that the government will swiftly address in dialogue with the opposition parties.
There has thus far been only one round of significant consultation - November 10 - between the government and the opposition parties in Parliament. Considering that the general elections were held on August 28 last year and we are now well into April, this absence of regular consultations has devalued President Jagdeo's expressed desire at his swearing-in ceremony for more involvement by the parliamentary parties in the legislative agenda and related matters. Not even the fact that Guyana was in the midst of two major events should have detained the government from proceeding with its agenda.
The packed agenda includes important issues such as crime, the appointment of the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the composing of several constitutional commissions which have languished for years.
Among the most significant of the outstanding issues are local government elections, the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the quality of the National Register. In this particular combo, the sequencing has to be gotten right.
As the manager of the electoral process, much public confidence is invested in GECOM. When this confidence starts to erode it automatically weaves a pall of suspicion over the activities of the commission. Members of the public, some of the opposition parties and in particular influential observer groups such as the Carter Center, the Commonwealth and the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB) have candidly criticised the composition of the present elections commission because of its proclivity to strife and politicization of what should be the nuts and bolts of elections. The Carter Center's position is particularly instructive as the current commission was composed on the basis of the so-called Carter-Price formula during one of the visits here by President Carter. Then, of course, President Carter was aiming to break the tense deadlock between President Hoyte and the opposition over electoral reforms. The Carter-Price formula was entirely appropriate then. Today, it has an increasingly disruptive quality to it and must be gotten rid of. It would make no sense from the outset of preparations for local government polls to burden the commission with the accumulated baggage from the general elections and the prospect for more gridlock and political grandstanding.
Both the PPP/C and the PNCR-1G will have to accept the inappropriateness of the current formula and agree to the necessary amendments to appoint a commission composed entirely of technocrats. There is no sense whatsoever in having political parties continue to make the nominations to the commission but a major agreement would have to be struck for this to change.
Second, considering the longstanding opposition concerns about the quality of the National Register and since the country has been waiting since 1997 for local government elections to be held, it would appear that the most sensible first step would be to embark on fresh house to house enumeration for the composition of a new list no matter the cost. In view of the modest turnout at the last election, the rate of migration and the peripatetic border populations, it would appear that the list for the 2006 elections contained the names of thousands of persons who were not here at the time and therefore could not vote. They should not have been on the list and would not have been had they been asked to come forward and verify their particulars. We remain completely convinced that the presence of the names of these persons on the list could not in itself create conditions for electoral fraud. Nevertheless, the names should have been expunged.
To have the local government elections with this present list would be to immediately arm critics with an arsenal of weapons with which to continuously chip away at the credibility of the elections and thereby reduce public confidence and participation in this very important process.
Third, there must be an immediate resolution of the two outstanding issues at the local government talks: the system for transfer of funds from the centre to local government organs and the extent of the mix between the constituency system and proportional representation.
The public should not allow the government and the opposition to tarry unnecessarily in these tasks. We want no brinkmanship and last minute slap-dash work for local government elections. There is enough time at hand and we expect that the government and opposition will buckle down to this very shortly.