GECOM struggles to regain credibility two years after blatant attempt to rig elections
By Kurt Campbell
Today, Wednesday, March 2, marks two years since Guyanese went to the polls and elected the People’s Progressive Party/Civic to government but challenges at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) were among the reasons for a historic five-month delay in declaring the Irfaan Ali- led party the true winner of those elections.
It was a brutal five-month battle and to this day, unanswered questions still linger among a large group of people – some of whom have complained of nightmares and post-traumatic stress.
The battle surrounded attempts by key figures at the elections commission, backed by the APNU+AFC, to rig the elections and keep the retired Brigadier David Granger and his government in office.
Since then, all eyes have been on GECOM to ensure it takes steps to regain its integrity. But that has been a slow process, according to two PPP/C nominated GECOM Commissioners.
And while some of those key figures fingered in the attempts to rig the March 2020 elections have been removed/fired from GECOM, some still remain, Commissioners Sase Gunraj and Bibi Shadick said.
And so, they both agreed that the Commission and the Secretariat remain fractured.
“There is no secret that GECOM is now a fractured body.
“There is a resistance to anything that is good at GECOM,” Gunraj told the News Room on Tuesday.
Both commissioners admitted that progress at GECOM is slow because there are some people employed there who still doubt the March 2020 elections results and there remains an intentional and self-serving lack of will by others.
GECOM took well over one year before a decision was made to terminate former Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield; Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Roxanne Myers and District Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, who are all before the courts facing charges related to electoral fraud.
Shadick said that GECOM’s current slothfulness is occasioned by some of the same actors who contributed to the five-month delay, noting “some of whom are in the Commission itself as Commissioners.”
Gunraj believes, however, that there are reasons for the slothfulness.
“Sometimes you have to lace it up and wear it and understand the reason for the sloth…that sloth has continued to plague us. Everything seems to be taking longer than usual,” Gunraj said.
BATTLE NOT OVER
Shadick has committed to standing guard to ensure that the corrective actions are taken and progress is achieved, regardless of how slowed that process might be.
“I tell you, the battle of the five months is not yet over in GECOM,” Shadick said even as Gunraj welcomed the annual reminders which he believes serve to ensure that the country does not slip into that “dark abyss” ever again.
Gunraj pointed out that although new faces are filling key positions, “integrity must be displayed at all times.”
“No amount of personnel change can offer the change we all dream of without that aspect of integrity,” Gunraj added.
Shadick, on the other hand, said that contingencies to guard against a recurrence of rigging in the future have been assessed and in this regard, she welcomed the proposed changes to Guyana’s electoral laws.
Multi-million dollar fines and hefty jail times, ranging from five to ten years, have been proposed for election offences.
The draft of the proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) has been published online.
TURNING A NEW LEAF
Shadick and Gunraj both believe that GECOM is turning a new leaf with a new CEO and Legal Officer in place even as the search is on for a Deputy CEO, Assistant CEO, Chief Accountant, Logistics Manager and Voter Registration Manager.
But while both Commissioners have lobbied for the GECOM Secretariat to be staffed with people of the highest integrity, they have admitted that the same may not be the case for the seven-member commission.
The Commission is made up of three members from the ruling party and three from the political opposition; it is headed by a Chairperson who is appointed after an agreement between the sitting Head of State and the Leader of the Opposition.
The current Opposition nominated GECOM Commissioners have been accused of stymying changes at GECOM.
Despite this, Shadick said, “While I am not happy with the behaviour, it is what it is. It is what it always was and we have to live with it.”
Shadick, an attorney by profession, said she would advocate for a change in the political appointment process of Commissioners had she thought there were any neutral people in the country.
“Lots of people who claim not to be political still take political decisions and hold political opinions.
“Personally, I don’t make decisions that the PPP wants. I think I have earned that right to make decisions that are fair.”
Gunraj, on the other hand, said: “I know the standards to which I hold myself and the position that I take within the organisation are always positions based in principle and on law… unfortunately I can’t say that across the board.”
Guyana is slated to go to the polls this year again – but this time it’s the Local Government Elections.
And while GECOM has started preparations for these elections, Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo had said that the government would be happy if the country’s election laws could be amended before going to the polls.
He said that will allow for a test run of the amendments ahead of national elections set for 2025.
The new GECOM Chief Executive Officer Vishnu Persaud has said that preparation for LGE and rebuilding trust and confidence in the electoral system are among his priorities.