By Abena Rockcliffe
The relationship between the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is becoming a little more tense as the Party is seemingly not at all pleased with the modus operandi of the entity’s Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally.
Government officials, particularly President Donald Ramotar, have been on record several times stating that GECOM is not prepared to facilitate Local Government Elections. This was one of the reasons the President had initially given for the stall in the holding of Local Government Elections. But GECOM has categorically defended itself on almost every occasion; questions about its readiness are raised.
Recently, Dr. Surujbally was quoted as saying that all President Ramotar needs to do is call elections and GECOM will respond.
Asked at the most recent PPP press conference to comment on the fact that GECOM is merely awaiting word to hold Local Government Elections, yet the PPP administration is yet to give the go-ahead, General Secretary of the PPP, Clement Rohee, basically said that the Party is not assured that that is reality.
Rohee regarded Surujbally’s statement as “loose” and said that it cannot be accepted at “face value.” He said that the PPP is not interested in just hearing that GECOM is ready, but wants focus to be placed on the concerns it has raised.
“My statement on behalf of the PPP calls for specific steps, we want him to comment on that and we expect that he comments as a professional Chairman, and not get into the political tantrums that he seems so adept to get into…I would say let us deal with the questions posed to Surujbally and the statement rather than commenting on what is attributed to Surujbally.
The politician even went on to say that he saw a movie called “The Fixer”, “but I can’t be so sure he can fit that bill with respect to elections”.
The issues Rohee addressed in the statement he referred to, include “GECOM’s readiness” and the Commission’s hiring of Richard François as the new Public Relations Officer.
When asked if the PPP is not getting sufficient feedback and clarifications from its three commissioners/representatives sitting on the elections commission, Rohee’s only response was that the issues raised at PPP’s press conference are as a result of the feedback it has been getting from the commissioners.
Dr. Surujbally had noted that the Commission’s ongoing work will see it ready for either General or Local Government Elections.
Sections of the media had reported that when the Chairman was asked if he has been questioned about the Commission’s readiness by the Head of State, Surujbally said “Three months after he (President Donald Ramotar) has said he would like elections, he will have elections.”
The Chairman was reported as saying, “…. we have spent a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money preparing for local government elections, but the Minister has to say, in collaboration with us of course, that we would like to have elections on such and such a date. Within six months, we will give your local government elections.”
The Commission’s chairman noted that the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Norman Whittaker, was advised that GECOM would be ready to host the Local Government Elections in April 2010, but the order did not materialise.
“Local Government Elections are 71 different mini-elections, as opposed to general elections, which is why we need six months, as opposed to the three months for general elections,” Surujbally said.
The budgetary allocation of $3.3B for the Commission’s administration and other related costs was approved by the National Assembly earlier this year.
Of the allocations, $1.7B is set aside for the Commission and $1.6B for elections administration. The money is intended to allow for GECOM to exercise general direction and supervision over the registration of electors and the administrative conduct of all elections of members of the National Assembly, the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) and more local authorities in Guyana.
PPP’s criticisms of GECOM have become very popular in the face of looming elections.
In recent times, PPP has voiced many criticisms of GECOM. The Party has accused the independent entity of performing inefficiently, of having a flawed Preliminary List of Electors (PLE), and of double standards.
The Party also expressed “concern” over GECOM’s “seemingly flawed and secretive employment policy.”
The PPP said that transparency and accountability are critical in safeguarding the integrity of the organization and Guyana’s democracy. The Party publicly objected to the appointment of François as Public Relations Officer. It claimed that its objections were premised mainly on the fact that François has been openly supportive of the Opposition and had previously used his position and authority to display biased action against leading members of the PPP.
The Party said that François’ Facebook page would verify these claims, along with the numerous “anti-PPP letters published in the Kaieteur News in his name.”
The Party recently wrote to Dr. Surujbally objecting to François’ appointment and “is awaiting firm and decisive actions towards this effect.”
The Party asserted that “the track record of Mr. François speaks volume on his lack of professionalism and association with the opposition.”
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