Unaware that any political organisation intent on stymieing holding of LGE
Dear Editor, At a press conference on Friday, October 5, 2018, Guyana Elections Commission Chairman, Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson, seems to have adopted the tactic of making unsubstantiated charges about ‘racial conflict’, and efforts to stymie the holding of Local Government Elections (LGE) at the level of the Commission itself, and external to it.
It is regrettable that the Chairman of an Elections Commission would go public to try to deflect and obfuscate the justifiable criticisms of GECOM. Article 162 of the Constitution mandates GECOM to always act fairly and impartially. It would appear that the GECOM Chairman is adopting the language of the APNU, which frequently resorts to charges of race when valid issues which warrant serious reflection, deliberation and action, are raised at the national level. This behaviour readily results in the polarisation of the Guyanese people on the basis of ethnicity.
Further, it is even more astonishing that anyone would characterise efforts to rectify illegalities, as warranting a challenge by a member of the legal profession against ‘the misuse of the legal system’!
I would like to clear up some of the real mischief embedded in the wild assertions of the GECOM Chairman.
On the assertion that he makes of racially motivated political bickering, I want to remind the public that I raised an issue of lack of diversity in the establishment and hiring practices at GECOM, where I identified that up to 90 percent of the topmanagement at GECOM is dominated by one group, and that it was wrong in principle for any group to have such dominance in what is a critical institution, given the diverse nature of our society. Because there was strong feeling about this matter, it was felt necessary to bring it to the attention of the Ethnic Relations Commission. This matter is under that Commission’s diligent review, which has, so far, responded as befits its mandate. I might point out that the stakeholder group to which I belong at the Commission is the most diverse in the representation of gender, age range and ethnicity. And I am almost certain that the Commissioners on all sides would be surprised at the charge of racially motivated bickering, given the decided effort of all parties to have a diversified electoral appeal.
On the assertion of ‘designs and machinations’ to stymie the holding of the LGE, one should not have to inform the Chairman that local government elections are elections by themselves, in separate Local Authority Areas, Constituencies and Municipalities. If, for reasons of death, ties and Court decisions, elections have to be held outside of the appointed date, the laws make provision for that to occur.
For the Chairman, a former judge, to speak about ‘the misuse of the Court system’ and it becoming ‘a tool of disruption’, deeply troubling.
The Chairman has to recall that the basic mandate of GECOM is to provide for free, fair, transparent, nationally and internationally verifiable democratic elections in Guyana. No resort to the Courts of the current matters relating to the required legal process for the dismantling of LAAs and the declaration is of new ones by the Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan, in the face of ‘charges of bias’ and ‘gerrymandering’, could be termed as ‘disruptive and a misuse of the legal system’. GECOM itself, as the steward and custodian of the elections process, should be happy to have these issues fairly and expertly reviewed and pronounced on by the Court system. How could efforts to remove fraudulent names – either of candidates or from lists of nominators, come under such attack? Is the Chairman himself unaware that an Elections Petition relating to the 2015 National and Regional Elections has been, seemingly, languishing in the Courts, and is it not in his best interest, as
Chairman of the Elections Commission to have it heard quickly even after three years?
I have the unfortunate duty to remind the Chairman that he was the prime actor, after an invitation to the United Nations was made and accepted, to have international technical expertise hired at UN cost to assist GECOM with certain critical issues relating to advice on the upgrade of elections technology and capabilities. The refusal to meet the UN in Guyana as scheduled at the instance of the Chairman, as was his studied refusal – in excess of three weeks – to deign a reply to the UN in explanation, was a grave error and embarrassment to GECOM.
Beyond truly taking up his constitutional responsibilities, and eschewing badly timed histrionics, Mr Patterson needs to offer genuine explanations for certain recent questionable hirings in which he has had a direct role, and for the preferential treatment of a newly hired staffer.
Also, he should not appear to be supporting the serious indiscretions of GECOM staff, particularly in not offering acceptable explanations for the disappearance of CEO Lowenfield for some ten hours at a critical time on Wednesday, September 26, last, which allowed for the non-removal and, therefore, acceptance of fraudulent names on lists by GECOM Returning Officers in a number of areas.
I can list at least ten important and critical matters for which the continuing silence, dilatory excuses and delayed considerations by the Chairman, is having serious negative impacts on the improvement in the management and efficiency of the GECOM in achieving the ultimate goal of having free and fair elections in Guyana.
Lastly, I am unaware, both at GECOM and with the obvious energy and interest being exerted by stakeholders and electors, that any political organisation is intent on stymieing the holding of the LGE. Given his unique placement at GECOM and the evidence of LGE activity thus far, this conclusion of the Chairman of GECOM is, indeed, remarkable.
I can only leave it to the media, and the public, at this time, to consider this and to arrive at their own deliberate conclusions. Yours faithfully, Robeson Benn GECOM Commissioner