Court rules against PPP in challenge against LAAs alteration, Party to appeal

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Following the High Court ruling by Justice Gino Persaud against People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Commissioner at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Bibi Shadick, over Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan’s changes to several Local Authority Areas (LAAs), the Party has since signalled its intention to appeal the decision.

In September, Shadick had approached the court to issue a series of orders including to quash Bulkan’s order of holding Local Government Elections in seven Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) since he failed to issue an Order under the Local Democratic Organs Act, Chapter 28:09, before announcing the November 12 polls.

These NDCs are Moruka/Phoenix Park; Kitty/Providence; Nile/Cozier; Lamaha/Yarrowkabra; Hauraruni/Yarrowkabra; Plegt Anker/Kortberaad; and Wyburg/Caracas.

However, the High Court Judge ruled that the Communities Minister complied with the law as set out in the Local Democratic Organs Act Chapter 28:09 and the Local Authorities Elections Act Chapter 28:03 of the Laws of Guyana.

The court noted that seven NDCs were in fact established in 1990 by Order No 51 of 1990 in compliance with the Local Democratic Organs Act and the boundaries already established in 1990.

Moreover, Justice Persaud found that there was no specific legal requirement in the law for the Minister to publish the boundaries of the NDCs or for LAAs for every successive election as contended by the applicant’s Attorney Anil Nandlall. Against this, the Judge dismissed the case against Minister Bulkan.

Meanwhile, Shadick had also sought orders from the court against GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, who went ahead to demarcate and re-demarcate constituencies’ boundaries without consultations with electors, stakeholders and political parties.

This, too, was dismissed by Justice Persaud, who also ruled on Friday that Attorney Nandlall failed to adduce any evidence that the CEO of GECOM had fixed the boundaries of the seven NDCs in usurpation of the Minister’s authority as alleged in his application.

The Judge noted that when specifically asked by the court to produce documents to show documents providing his case, the applicant, through her lawyer, could not produce any and as such, the court found there was no case against the second-named respondent.

In addition, the court also ordered that both parties – Bulkan and Lowenfield – be paid costs of $150,000 each.

During Friday’s decision, Minister Bulkan was represented by a team from the Attorney General’s Chambers, including Attorney General Basil Williams, Solicitor General Kim Kyte-Thomas and State Solicitor Ayana Mc Calman. Meanwhile, the Chief Elections Officer was represented by Attorney Roysdale Forde.

A statement from the AG Chambers on Friday states that the court’s ruling paves the way for Local Government Elections to proceed on Monday November 12, without obstruction, interruption or delay.

However, the PPP on the other hand has expressed disappointment over the ruling, saying that this case – along with others that have been filed – were done with the sole objective of protecting the democratic process, strengthening the electoral machinery and safeguarding citizens right to vote and to engender consultation with and participation of the citizens in the electoral decision making process.

“Unfortunately, thus far, we have been unable to persuade the Judiciary that important violations are taking place in relation to the Constitution and our electoral laws, which threaten the very democratic foundations upon which this nation rests. Although, evidence was produced that Minister Ronald Bulkan adopted a particular course of action in relation to identification of LAAs, the demarcation of boundaries and the allocation of seats for each constituency for the LGE of 2015, as he is mandated to do by law, but that he failed to follow that very process in respect of the 2018 elections, the learned Judge found nothing wrong with this departure,” the Opposition posited.

The party went on to note that the Judge, having found that the Minister acted in accordance with the law, omitted to determine a number of important issues raised in the case.

These include: Whether the CEO can create new constituencies in existing NDCs areas without consulting with either the electors or the political parties; Whether the CEO at his own whim and fancy can merge existing constituencies and add constituencies within existing NDCs when their impact clearly create an electoral advantage in favour of one political party and to the disadvantage of other political parties, without consulting with the electors, the political parties or any organisation or stakeholder whatsoever; and whether the CEO acted on his own or carried out the directions of the Minister in the alteration of these constituencies and whether the process followed by the CEO, in so doing, was lawful.

“These were some of the fundamental issues which we expected pronouncements on for future guidance. Unfortunately, these issues were not addressed by the court in the oral decision delivered. However, we pledge to continue to persevere relentlessly in our struggles to protect our citizens’ right to vote and indeed the democratic process as a whole,” PPP stated.

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