By Murtland Haley
With the Carter-Price formula being used by the Guyana Elections Commission for 25 years
in six elections, Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, said on Monday that his party would be willing to participate in a change of the Carter-Price electoral formula in the future.
Speaking at a press conference in the Office of the Opposition Leader, Jagdeo was asked to respond to an article carried by this newspaper last week suggesting that the Carter-Price formula has outlived its usefulness.
According to the former Head of State, the formula is all that Guyana has at the moment but that he would be willing to participate in discussions regarding a change. However, this participation would only be forthcoming from the People’s Progressive Party Civic if the new formula can assure, in a highly politicised environment like Guyana, an independent, impartial and fair elections machine in the country.
The recommendation to replace the Carter-Price formula was made in a 2005 report prepared by former Chief Elections Officer of Jamaica, Carl Dundas titled “Final Report on Redrafting and Modernizing the Electoral Laws of Guyana”.
The publication was produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Jagdeo said on Monday that he has not read the report, even though he was President at the time and that it was provided to all political parties when published. Despite this, he said that his party has an open mind to anything that will ensure fair action and transparency at GECOM.
“The only thing that we want out of GECOM is to have a machinery that is impartial, independent and will conduct free and fair elections; and so we have an open mind to how that evolves in the future but that would require Constitutional change; and you know in this climate, it seems very difficult that we will have those any time before the next elections.”
He said that at the moment, Guyana has a formula in its constitution that governs the machinery and leadership of GECOM, including how it conducts itself. “It is that formula that we are trying to ensure is applied in a manner that is consistent with our constitution, hence the list and the work now on submitting some additional names to the President.”
This attention of the publication was drawn to the report after former GECOM Chairman Dr. Steve Surujbally wrote a letter in Kaieteur News of April 7, 2017 in which he mentioned the work done by Mr Dundas and could not say why the recommendations were never implemented.
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 first used in the 1992 elections and underwent a number of modifications in 1995 in preparation for the 1997 elections.
According to the formula, the Commission at GECOM is made up of six political appointees, three from each major political party and one Chairman who is appointed by the President from a list of six names provided by the leader of the Opposition.
However, the 2005 study suggested that this system be quashed and an independent Electoral Management Body be established. 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.
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.
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