Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Commissioner, Vincent Alexander, believes that the current configuration lends itself to appointees believing that they must approach decisions with political bias.
In recent months, there have been public deliberations and even criticisms of the unilateral appointment of the Chairman of GECOM, Justice James Patterson (ret’d) and the appointment of Trevor Williams, who replaced Sandra Jones who passed away last month.
“There is this configuration and the very acceptance by commissioners that this thing got sides; it has been one of my disappointments. I try to treat the appointment, from my perspective, as a constitutional office and therefore not to go to the Commission exhibiting some bias towards a particular side. That has been one of the disappointments,” Alexander stated.
The current seven-member Commission is assembled with a Chairman and six Commissioners.
Apart from the Chairman’s appointment, the Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2000 provides for the appointment of six members of the Commission with three members appointed by the President, acting in his own deliberate judgment and another three members appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition after meaningful consultation with the non-governmental opposition parties represented in the National Assembly.
Ten years ago, Alexander was nominated by the opposition, People’s National Congress (PNC) and appointed by then President Bharrat Jagdeo. He is currently the longest serving Commissioner. He believes that the legislative framework governing GECOM does not take into consideration the political culture of Guyana.
“We [Commissioners] are supposed to be Constitutional officers, but most of us see ourselves as Party representatives and the public sees us that way as well. To a very large extent, party lines are drawn in the work of GECOM.
“One can see that as a disadvantage, but it is also in some regards a reality that we have to recognise. If we configure GECOM differently, not based on the parties making nominations, we still have a society where people are rather suspicious of political alignment,” Alexander pointed.
He stated that the drawback of doing away with the current process is moving to a process where you do not know what you have as opposed to the present state of knowing exactly what you have.
“One can juxtapose whether the society itself is ready because when one looks at all the Constitutional bodies, people still have question marks whether the persons who populate those bodies are neutral persons as opposed to representing one party or another party’s interest,” Alexander pointed out.
Before the 1992 Elections, the Commission had a temporary lifespan. It comprised a Chairman who was appointed by the President and one member in respect of each political party, including the governing party, which had not less than five seats in the National Assembly. A member then demitted office within three months after the date of the election.
TOE THE LINE
Under the existing laws, there is no provision for a time limit or the period those commissioners are to serve. Nonetheless, Alexander stated that over time, there has been some growth, but whenever that growth takes place commissioners are replaced.
“Why we place them in the first instance and secondly how do you successfully replace someone that is in an appointment that is infinite? The appointments at GECOM cannot be changed by the persons making the nomination once the person has been appointed.
Alexander embraces a new approach to the appointments that would reduce the political involvement.
He explained that the new approach is to have established civil society groups populate the Commission with the requisite skills. For example, he suggests a lawyer nominated from the Bar Association may sit on the Commission.
“In that way, it wouldn’t be the President who is making any determination. It would be a much more objective approach to identifying the person, but having said that, I am still saying that in Guyana the nature of things is that even these associations seem to have biases.
“People will even look at the individuals, notwithstanding, the manner in which the person is selected, and say he is a PPP or he is a PNC. We seem to lack the level of political maturity in our society that allows us to do things that are not tainted,” Alexander stated.
Alexander also stated that he had made similar proposals for the constitution of the Local Government Commission which would allow effective oversight through the skills needed to ensure the smooth functioning of the local authorities.
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