GECOM Chair says local gov’t elections still possible this year
- Gunraj insists Lowenfield, others must go
By Kurt Campbell
With only six months remaining in the year and no discussions ongoing at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to ensure the holding of Local Government Elections (LGE) within its statutory timeline, officials within GECOM have reassured that those elections could run off this year.
Speaking with the News Room by telephone on Thursday, GECOM Chairman Justice (retired) Claudette Singh said she is still waiting on the advice of the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall on a date for those elections.
Notwithstanding, Singh is confident that GECOM, with the monies for those elections already budgeted, remains in a position to successfully hold the elections.
The preparation will entail the printing of ballot papers abroad and the training of hundreds of polling day staff. The Local Government Minister is on record endorsing the sentiments expressed by President Irfaan Ali and other senior members of the government that before those elections are held, GECOM needs to be fixed.
People’s Progressive Party/Civic nominated GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj also shared the same sentiment, assuring too that LGE was still possible this year.
“I maintain that the holding of Local Government Elections at the statutorily defied time is imminently possible,” he told the News Room in a recent interview.
Just as the government has reasoned, Gunraj said the continued employment of GECOM’s Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, his deputy Roxanne Myers and the District Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo threaten the process. These three are before the court on several charges relating to electoral fraud at the 2020 general and regional elections.
Gunraj reiterated his calls for the GECOM trio to be removed from office so as to allow for the acceptance of the election results and broad stakeholder confidence in the process.
“Based on the shenanigans played out by these persons, I don’t think people are comfortable with them running the operations of GECOM and people don’t want to see them participate,” Gunraj told the News Room.
With several delays amid attempts to have them dismissed, Gunraj said “the longer this process takes, the longer it will take to ensure there is a proper functioning of GECOM to hold those elections.”
Discussions were slated on three motions calling for the immediate dismissal of the trio on Tuesday last but that never materialised because the Opposition nominated Commissioners Vincent Alexander and Desmond Trotman left the meeting when the item came up on the agenda.
Justice Singh said she intends to go ahead with the meeting next Tuesday at 13:00 hrs.
Some $1.1 billion has been allocated for LGE in the 2021 National Budget but no monies have been allocated for House-to-House registration.
The current voters list expired in January 2021. Using the voters list of 2018, when LGE was last held, some 500,000 ballot papers are to be printed for the 2021 local elections while $237.7 million has been set aside for the printing of materials.
Meanwhile, a further breakdown of the $1.1 billion for LGE in 2021 shows that $32.8 million is allocated for fuel and lubricants and $81.6 million for the rental of private buildings.
There are to be some 17,000 polling stations established for LGE, of which mostly public buildings will be used. Additionally, there is $75.6 million budgeted for travel and subsistence for polling day staff and $9.9 million for regular distribution of Identification (ID) Cards.
Another $26.4 million has been allocated for telephone charges, which will go towards purchasing minutes for Presiding Officers and Field Staff. Monies for refreshments and meals are pegged at $89.1 million for Election Day staff and $18 million for the training of 8,500 persons.