GECOM must advise on readiness – President on LGE

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President Dr Irfaan Ali on Monday related that Local Government Elections (LGE) which was last held in 2018, is still on the Government’s agenda while noting that it is up to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to advise on its readiness.

The Head of State reminded that the Government had included funds for GECOM to hold LGE in the most recent budget. Indeed, a sum of $1.1 billion was allocated in the 2021 budget for the LGE, with $237.7 million set aside for printing 500,000 ballots.

“Let me be very clear that the PPP/C Government welcomes Local Government Elections. We have made the necessary budgetary provisions in the budget to facilitate Local Government Elections. However, it is the role of the Guyana Elections Commission to be in a position to run these elections,” he said.

“It is the Guyana Elections Commission that must advise on its readiness. And as you are aware, the Commission is still dealing with a motion to remove persons who were intricately involved and part of what took place in the last National and Regional Elections,” the President also said.

At present, motions for the removal of GECOM Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, his Deputy Roxanne Myers and Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo are on the table at the Commission, waiting to be debated.

The GECOM trio was before the court for a variety of electoral fraud charges when GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj and fellow Government Commissioners Manoj Narayan and Bibi Shadick brought motions for their dismissal from GECOM.

However, Lowenfield had subsequently countered with a court case seeking to block Gunraj and Shadick from exercising their constitutional power in the motion. In his court documents, Lowenfield sought “an order restraining Commissioners Sase Gunraj and Bibi Shadick from participating as adjudicators in the hearing of the Motion for dismissal of the Applicant brought by the said Sase Ganraj and Bibi Shadick.”

He is also seeking “a declaration that the complainants, Sase Gunraj and Bibi Shadick in the Motion for Dismissal of the Applicant cannot properly participate, hear and determine their own complaint against the Applicant.”

A ruling on Lowenfield’s court case will be delivered on August 9, while an injunction granted by the High Court barring the Commission from discussing the motion is in place until then. According to Ali, it is important that GECOM has professionals in place to ensure the elections are held without a hitch.

“So be assured, we are ready. We are supportive of Local Government Elections with a transparent election machinery, with professionals in place to conduct those elections. So that we don’t experience what we did over a year ago,” Ali related.

At the last Local Government Elections in November 2018, the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Opposition secured 52 of the 80 Local Authority Areas (LAAs). This followed the holding of LGE in 2016, during which the PPP/C also claimed the majority of the LAAs. After the 2018 LGE, GECOM spent over a year trying to get ready for snap elections that should have been held within three months of the then A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) Government falling to a No-Confidence Motion in December 2018.

GECOM finally held General and Regional Elections on March 2, 2020. But as if the previous delay were not enough, Guyanese were forced to wait another five months before the results could finally be declared by GECOM on August 2, 2020, after local and international pressure.

In the aftermath of the controversial five-month-long elections, a number of high ranking GECOM officials have been investigated by the Police and charged for misconduct in public office and forgery. Lowenfield, Myers, and Mingo are among the top GECOM officials currently before the courts on electoral fraud charges.