With one more day before Guyana enters uncharted Constitutional waters, the rift at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has widened even further.
Yesterday, GECOM Chairman, Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson, advised President David Granger that the earliest General and Regional Elections can be held is late November.
The letter from Justice Patterson to the President did not have the blessings of the three Opposition-nominated Commissioners- Bibi Shadick, Sase Gunraj and Robeson Benn.
With warnings from at least one diplomat that a solution must be found earliest to end the Constitutional problem, yesterday’s walkout by Opposition commissioners from GECOM’s meeting would signal more tough times ahead in the political landscape.
Patterson’s letter to the President came days after he was asked to provide a work programme and more details about the readiness of GECOM for early elections.
The Opposition is insisting that GECOM’s job is always to be ready for elections and to register Guyanese.
According to Shadick, during a post-walkout press conference, from the language of the letter, it did not sound like the Chairman wrote it.
The delays in naming a date are a clear design to hold off on elections as long as possible, the commissioners said.
According to the letter from Patterson, he consulted with his Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, and senior staffers.
He blamed the walkouts as delaying the process of naming a date.
“This has occurred at every session convened since February 28, 2019, including the Commission’s last meeting on March 14, 2019.”
The chairman said that he was advised by the CEO that given all current considerations, an amount of $3.5B is required.
“Kindly note that significant critical path activities associated with elections cannot commence prior to the availability of these funds to the Commission. In the circumstances, no election date should be contemplated less than five months after these funds are placed at the disposal of and under the control of GECOM.”
Patterson disclosed that it would be logistically impossible for the Secretariat to produce a list with a qualifying date of April 30, 2019, to become available for May 1.
“Accordingly, in the Secretariat’s submission to the Commission all viable options for the availabilities of an electoral list are anchored in a qualifying date of October 31, 2019 which lists cannot be used before November 1, 2019.”
Patterson said that according to the GECOM Secretariat, the earliest that elections could have been held, catering for the house-to-house registration, is this year end- provided that enough resources are released.
“In consideration of all of the above, the fulfillment of the various conditions highlighted, the removal of the external impediments, and based on the advice I have been given by the Chief Elections Officer, I would proffer that the Commission would be in a position to conduct General and Regional Elections no earlier than late November 2019 with an Official List of Electors having a qualifying date of October 31, 2019.”
The current situation was triggered after an Opposition-tabled no confidence vote was carried on December 21.
A Government parliamentarian, Charrandass Persaud, joined with the Opposition in voting yes.
In so doing, it caused the government to fall and triggered a 90-day window for early elections, which expires tomorrow.
However, Government has taken the matter to court. At the High Court level, it was ruled that the vote was legal.
It is being appealed now. The Government says it is prepared to head to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
In the meantime, the foreign envoys have been warning of the impact that the political impact would have on investments.
The political situation has divided the country with any elections that come expected to be one of the hardest fought in the country’s recent history.
It would come at a time when Guyana is about to produce oil–lots of oil.
According to Commissioner Benn, during the press conference, the GECOM meeting started yesterday with the letter staring them in the face.
The Opposition commissioners said that they disagreed with the letter being sent as they were not consulted.
The commissioners claimed that there is a history in the last few months which tells a clear picture…of a plan to delay elections.
While GECOM should be upholding the Constitution, it is acting contrary.
According to the commissioners, the chairman is operating almost as if the Opposition Commissioners do not exist.
It was pointed out that $5B had already been allocated to GECOM in the national budget.
It is now asking for $3.5B.
According to Gunraj, there is no legal document or policy paper which GECOM could produce that would indicate that house-to-house registration must be conducted before elections.
According to Commissioner Benn, it is clear that the Chairman has “usurped” the functions of the Commission which comprises six commissioners plus a chairman.
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