Minister of State, Joseph Harmon on Friday refuted claims that Government is influencing the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to delay the preparations to host regional and national elections. The accusation was made by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo on Thursday during a press briefing.
Harmon, speaking at a post cabinet briefing, reassured that GECOM is an independent agency. Further, the Minister noted that the Opposition has the option of contacting GECOM with questions about its readiness.
“We cannot tell GECOM how to do its work, in like manner, the executive cannot tell the judiciary how to do its work and in like manner, the executive and the judiciary cannot tell the legislative branch how to do its work. So these are all pillars of Government and they are independent, so it is not right for one to say do this or do that…all their Whip was ask to do was to make an inquiry into GECOM as to their operational readiness to deliver an election” Harmon stated.
According to him, Government’s interaction with GECOM ends after their budget is provided. “We provide them with a budget, they determine their work program and then they advise how equip they are to deliver their program”.
However, Jagdeo revealed that despite the two main stakeholders – Government and the Opposition publicly saying that an agreement was made to meet GECOM on its readiness for the upcoming polls, there has not been any willingness on the part of the elections body.
He specifically mentioned the behaviour of Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, in the absence of GECOM’s Chairman, Justice James Patterson, who is currently out on an extended sick leave and is expected to return next week.
“Mr Lowenfield said, he has indicated that he cannot meet the two stakeholders. Imagine, there is a Government and opposition, they are the stakeholders and Mr Lowenfield, cannot meet with them. He needs to get the approval of the Chairman but he has to wait until a meeting is convened, to get a GECOM statutory meeting to get that approval. He cannot pick up the phone and call the Chairman and say that its part of a request from the joint statement between the President and Opposition leader, they want to meet about GECOM’s readiness, can I meet with them, that would have been the simplest thing to do” Jagdeo revealed.
Further, the Opposition Leader stated “So we have a huge ordeal now and we have to at some point in time decide if we want to pursue this charade or juts withdraw from it totally because somehow the Government is using all of these things, our willingness to engage and to be helpful and to reach out, to use it maybe to further delay these elections. We are very concerned about that issue.”
During last week’s high level meeting between President David Granger and the Opposition Leader, the two sides agreed for their respective Chief Whips Amna Ally and Gail Teixeira to meet with the elections body to determine its readiness for the upcoming polls.
However, this meeting is yet to be held and according to Jagdeo, the Opposition is getting impatient.