Justice Gino Persaud is expected to rule next Monday on whether the High Court has jurisdiction to hear a challenge which the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) has mounted against the State regarding Local Government boundaries
The imminent ruling stems from Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Commissioner for the Opposition, Bibi Shaddick’s application through her Attorneys-at-Law, including Anil Nandlall.
The matter was called yesterday at the High Court in Georgetown during which lawyers for both sides presented written submissions. With both Attorney General Basil Williams and Solicitor General Kim Kyte-Thomas being absent, another counsel appeared for the State.
After the hearing, Nandlall told reporters, “We received a letter yesterday (Tuesday) from the Attorney General saying that he cannot be available and that he was asking for tomorrow (yesterday) to make his presentation.
The urgency of this matter is paramount so I impressed upon the court that this matter must be concluded long before the Local Government Elections. If the matter succeeds, it will require that certain things be done before the holding of elections.”
Nevertheless, on Monday Justice Persaud will rule on whether the court should hear the matter, or allow the holding of Local Government Elections, and then hear the matter by an elections petition.
The application which questions the authority of Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan and Chief Elections Officer (CEO), to identify by name, boundaries and seats, a number of Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) for the LGE, was filed a month ago.
The PPP had accused the Government of manipulating (gerrymandering) LGE boundaries to undermine its stakes at the upcoming elections. The party promised to move to the Court to challenge the actions of the Minister and GECOM in this regard.
In the FDA, Nandlall admits that both the Minister and CEO have certain statutory responsibilities to discharge in relation to the holding of the elections.
He, however, argues that the Minister has failed and/or omitted to follow certain procedures outlined in the Law in the creation of new NDCs, the creation of new seats in existing NDCs, as well as allocating seats in the new NDCs.
According to Nandlall, “It is not that he (the Minister) does not have the power to do so. However, there is a procedure under a particular legislation that must be followed before it is properly done. That was not done by the Minister.”
Nandlall explained that elections is a statutory process, and therefore, must be held in accordance to the procedures laid down in the relevant statutes.
He stressed that the law of elections is that those procedures must be strictly complied with and must be rigidly followed, if not, the elections could be set aside as null and void, and unlawful and illegal, before a court of competent jurisdiction.
The PPP further contends that the Minister altered existing boundaries within existing NDCs without any attempt to consult with important stakeholders, including the electors and the political parties.
“We believe that such a process must involve consulting with the relevant stakeholders,” Nandlall pointed out.
Section Three of the Local Democratic Organs Act, Nandlall said, speaks of a process that involves members of the community being part of any process in relation to local governance.
He further said that Article 13 of the Constitution of Guyana speaks of the need to consult in important matters of State when it concerns democratic governance.
He went on to state that the CEO fixed boundaries for the new NDCs that were created by the minister, when that is a duty for the minister himself.
“This is not his (the CEO’s) power,” Nandlall said, adding that, the CEO can only fix internal boundaries to allocate seats after the Minister prescribes how many seats the NDC must contain, and when he fixes the external boundaries.
Among other things, the court action seeks orders of certiorari, quashing the establishment of the new NDCs by the Minister, an order quashing the establishment of new members within existing NDCs, and an order quashing the CEO fixing boundaries without consultation.
The PPP is also seeking orders of Mandamus, compelling the Minister and CEO to rectify these violations. After filing the FDA at the court’s registry, Nandlall told reporters, “It is unfortunate that we have to approach the court at this hour.
We have been forced to do so, having regard that we have been unable to get GECOM, the Chief Elections Officer or the Minister, to listen to our concerns, because we would have like these things not to end up in court.”
Nandlall said that all they are asking is for the law to be complied with. He said he hopes the matter will be concluded in sufficient time for elections to be held in those areas. According to Nandlall, he has already consulted with a senior High Court Judge about setting an early date to begin hearing the matter.
Nevertheless, the lawyer told reporters that the matter is very “straightforward”, but has some tedious procedures that one needs to follow.
Reacting to the court action, Minister Bulkan had said that the PPP, by its actions and track record, has demonstrated to Guyana that it has no interest in democracy.
The Minister said, “They (the PPP) do not believe in the system of Local Government.
Nevertheless, we are forging ahead with the re-institution as well as expanding the system of Local Government.
We are convinced that when people are empowered and given the opportunity to develop their communities, it will result in better managed communities.”
Minister Bulkan added that everything he did was within the law, and that the PPP has acknowledged that he has the authority under the law to determine the size of the council and that was all he did.
“I am acting lawfully and legally, and there has been no claim to the contrary. To the best of my knowledge they (the PPP) are saying that I acted undemocratically and have invoked Article 13 of the Constitution of Guyana which speaks about inclusionary democracy.”
The Minister concluded, “We are following the democratic tradition. We are empowering people ultimately, for their own benefit. The PPP will either conform or step aside.”
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