The recent reports in the media on remarks and statements made by the past Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, Dr. Steve Surujbally, on his demitting office, raises questions of concern as to whether he deliberately, or mistakenly, is on a mission of undermining the accepted view of the constitutionally determined composition of the body of which he was chairman for fifteen (15) years.
Further, his statements at the press briefing, add to the criticisms of the quality of his stewardship of GECOM.
Dr. Surujbally was quoted as stating that “partisan” commissioners were not good for Guyana – a position he has stated at commission meetings on some occasions when he was required to cast his vote when the commission was divided across the table on contentious issues.
The Constitution provides for six commissioners three of which are appointed by the President, acting in his own deliberate judgment, and three appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition. The Chairman of GECOM is appointed, according to Article (161) 2, “ The Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or has held office as a judge of a court…or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge, or any other fit and proper person.”
I have several times pointed out to Dr. Surujbally that the Commission was bi-partisan in nature, as a result of the tedious and deliberate formulation of the “Carter Formula” which was one the key adoptions in constitutional reform which allowed for a more democratic constitution and freer and fairer elections in 1992.
The resultant makeup of the Commission necessarily took into account the political context of Guyana and the interests of the major national political stakeholders in the constitutional reform process.
Therefore, in my view, Dr. Surujbally’s attacks on commissioners for “partisan” positions or actions in and outside of GECOM are misplaced and, are seemingly following an agenda which is scripted elsewhere adopting the course of which could lead to the bogging down of progress towards holding National Elections in 2020 as constitutionally mandated.
The nominated commissioners of GECOM have the crucial role of bringing the perspectives, viewpoints and experiences of their nominee, the nominee’s supporters, and those of the wider society (inclusive of adversarial positions from the ‘other side’) for consideration, deliberation and resolution to the table at GECOM.
And so, one has to ask Dr. Surujbally, who is better placed to officiate at internal elections of their nominating party or grouping than a fair-minded, discerning GECOM commissioner? And who is better at engaging with stakeholder groups in relation to their concerns with respect to the operations of the electoral body?
While Commissioners are expected and understood to be reticent, detached, discrete and dispassionate in their engagements one cannot ascribe mere “partisanship” to the role and every singled-out activity action of commissioners.
And here, I want to categorically deny being on a PPP/C ‘platform” in Essequibo shortly after being appointed a GECOM commissioner. I partook in an outreach by the PPP/C on that coast where I had discussions and took information at private ‘bottom-house’ meetings or at informal encounters at a number of locations where GECOM’S performance was unfailingly severely criticized. Surujbally appears to delight in propagating the fiction of the ‘platform’ which was inaccurately reported in the press.
In any event, it is the Chairman of GECOM who, when put in the sometimes unenviable position of having to cast his vote in determining a matter that is divisive – partisan or not- who has to have the courage and confidence to so do in a manner that is viewed as deliberate, logical and standing the tests of integrity and transparency.
Dr. Surujbally’s casting of his determining vote on the question of the CEO Lowenfield’s application to the courts to pursue the blocking of a hearing of the Ganga Persaud’s Election Petition does not meet nor allows for the standard of transparency and integrity required of an elections commission in any democracy and brings the electoral body to a new historically low point. Why should GECOM, through its CEO, stand in the way of the constitutionally mandated resort, which is intended to bring comfort on judicial scrutiny and determination, on the questioning of electoral integrity?.
It is Guyana’s democratic process, and GECOM, who would be winners, one way or the other when this matter is fully ventilated and determined in the courts and no one should stand in its way…..unless there is something to hide or an attempt is underway to obfuscate what really transpired in 2015 and to delay the 2020 elections!
Dr. Surujbally goes further into bringing his tenure at GECOM into questioning and disrepute. He, perhaps too readily, accords with the Government’s position that a Judge or a person who can be appointed as a Judge is, a priori, according to his interpretation, suited for appointment as GECOM Chairman, if he is “fit and proper.” This construct of Dr. Surujbally would appear to rule his appointment out from the very beginning and appears to be an admission of his ‘squatting’ on the position all these years.
Surujbally tries to adopt an enigmatic posture with respect to the mysterious appearance of fake statements of poll (SOPs) into the count during 2015 elections. He adverts to existing “empirical” data which could point in a certain direction. He noted that police investigations led nowhere and called on the media to exercise more vigilance and to pursue the issue.
The question which naturally arises is why is Surujbally sitting on data, empirical or otherwise, which could help solve this deeply troubling puzzle? Why should anyone, most of all the Chairman of an Elections Commission, fuel speculations and allow these to run rife with respect to the penetration of the GECOM system by fake statements of poll? Is it not required of Dr. Surujbally to reveal publically his empirical data to help solve this mystery as an aspect of his stewardship and legacy at GECOM? Is it not within the remit of the Chairman of the Elections Commission to investigate and report fully on this matter? We should all be prepared to let the chips fall where they may in resolution of this crucial issue.
Guyana is still awaiting reports from GECOM on the 2015 National and Regional Elections and on the 2016 Local Government Elections. Elections Commissions in jurisdictions with which Dr. Surujbally is familiar have published the reports on their elections, petitions or no petitions, shortly after their elections were concluded. Dr. Surujbally has balked at allowing for the 2015 elections report to be done and provided to the commission, the public, and the national stakeholders.
Monthly and annual reports of GECOM are infrequent and generally of poor usability….as are meetings of the Commission. Oversight of the commission is poor with complaints of some commissioners being “embedded” there while others do not have the same access….this against a backdrop of Surujbally refusing to provide common space and facilitation to commissioners to do research or to meet members of the public.
Surujbally has also refused to provide documented information to the commissioners on allegations in the media on financial mismanagement and other irregularities at the institution but has studiedly made assertions in the media and in an appraisal on the very good performance of the executive in the face of an ongoing audit by the State Auditors of GECOM.
Dr. Surujbally’s insistence on not adopting any course of action to have GECOM’s employment practices result in an environment and appearance which satisfactorily reflect Guyana’s ethnicities and multicultural character is a signal failure towards GECOM avoiding charges and perceptions of ethnic bias. The blinkered approach to this problem allows for the continuing shutting out of representative sections of the electorate from participating fully in democratic action and oversight and this in itself impairs our, admittedly, evolving democracy at all levels and in all spheres.
And, lastly, the lack of any perceived urgency in modernizing electoral systems by allowing for the adoption of enhanced biometrics, e-registration and e-tabulation as adjunct to the current system speaks volumes on the ultimate failure of GECOM under Dr. Surujbally.
A failure in stewardship and accountability, due to elitist, obdurate, and opportunistic leadership, has resulted in a corrosive atmosphere and the undermining of tried and proven administrative and professional practice, which has continuing negative impacts and portend a future of enormous risk.
We at GECOM cannot continue to fail our country.
PPP/C GECOM Commissioner.
4th, March, 2017.