By Murtland Haley
The appointment of a new chairperson for the Guyana Elections Commission has become a topical issue, particularly in the press. There is a back and forth as to the criteria which need to be satisfied before the President makes an appointment.
Based on Article 161 of the Constitution, President David Granger is to appoint a new GECOM chairperson from a list of six persons submitted by the leader of the opposition. In a letter to the press yesterday, Dr. Steve Surujbally made reference to a 2005 report which addressed the shortcomings of the Carter-Price formula in setting up of the commission.
According to the report titled “Final Report on Redrafting and Modernising the Electoral Laws of Guyana”, the so called Carter-Price formula has perhaps served its usefulness and is in need of a new approach that can arrest the slippage of confidence in the electoral process by the principal stakeholders.
The Carter-Price formula was created by former United States of America President, Jimmy Carter and former Prime Minister of Belize, George Price. Based on records, the formula was a response to the 1992 elections and was first applied in the General Elections of 1997.
The 2005 report which was done by former Chief Elections Officer of Jamaica, Carl Dundas, said that the erosion of confidence in GECOM is in part due to the failure of the Carter-Price formula to enable decisions to be taken on a timely basis and with a measure of consensus.
According to the report, there should be an independent Electoral Management Body (EMB) which would fix all the issues which the Carter-Price formula fails to address. The report mentioned a number of countries which had adopted a successful EMB formula, which include Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The report said that the EMB approach in the context of Guyana is to construct a formula that avoids party nominees as commissioners and instead use a participatory format that entails three levels of screening before the names of independent individuals are submitted to the President for formal appointment.
“The essence of the approach is to constitute, by Constitutional amendment, a panel of four eminent, independent Guyanese citizens of highest integrity to receive nominations through advertisement (or otherwise) within a stipulated period of six weeks, from political parties, professional bodies, civil society organisations, private-sector commercial bodies, trade unions, the Judicial Services Commission and individuals.”
The panel would include personalities such as the Chancellor of the Judiciary, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, the Chairperson of the Ethnic Relations Commission and the Head of the Women and Gender Equality Commission.
According to the report, this panel will have to select not more than seven names from the list of nominations and submit them to a committee of the National Assembly, constituted by representatives of political parties in proportion to the number of seats held in the House.
This committee within the National Assembly would consider the matter and submit three or five names to the National Assembly for approval of each name by two-thirds majority. Following which, those names would be submitted to the President for formal approval.
Each commissioner would have to satisfy criteria for nomination which include their willingness to serve, a fit and proper person to hold office of commissioner, of unquestionable personal integrity and has an established record of non-partisanship and impartiality politically.
The report went further to suggest amendments to Article 161 of the Constitution which has been a controversial subject of late regarding its interpretation. The reports suggested the deletion of the current Article and substitute it with a totally different provision.
According to the amendment, immediately following appointment of the Commission, the Chairman and Vice Chairman shall be selected by secret ballot by the members of the Commission.
Further, in the absence of the Chairman and Vice Chairman, the remaining members shall elect an acting chairman from their number. The amendment also suggested the term of office for each member of the commission to be seven years unless he or she resigns at an earlier date, or is removed from office.
The report also quoted a statement published by the Carter Centre itself regarding the current formula being used by GECOM. This statement was made in 2001 and read, “Parliament and political parties should consider alternative models of election administration.
“The so-called ‘Carter formula,’ which has been followed since 1992, provides for an election commission with balanced representation of ruling and opposition parties. While the adoption of this model was critical to the success of the breakthrough transitional elections in 1992, in subsequent elections it has allowed party interests to interfere with effective election administration.
“As a part of election reform efforts, Guyana should give careful consideration to alternative models, possibly reducing or eliminating political party representation and increasing the role of independent members of civil society and professional experts.”
According to Dr. Surujbally, this report was circulated to all political parties in 2005. However, it is unclear why the recommendations were never implemented since they would address the problems which the GECOM Commission has as it relates to the appointment of a Chairman and the impartiality of its Commissioners.
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