June 25, 2017

Leaders should work towards creating a modern elections commission

Dear Editor,

An impending visit to Guyana by a major delegation from the Trinidad Energy Chamber prompted an article in the Trinidad Guardian (June 9, 2017) captioned “Guyana: trouble again?”

The article focused on Guyana’s turbulent electoral history, and culminated in the following manner: “Oil revenues should start to flow from 2020. And 2020 is also election year. Stakes are high.”

Linking investor interest in oil and gas to Guyana’s threadbare electoral system captures what is at stake between the leaders of Guyana’s two major political formations in Monday’s meeting, which is aimed at resolving the impasse over nomination of the Chairperson for GECOM.

If the exchanges leading up to that meeting are a guide, one side will be haggling about the phrases “fit and proper person”, and “fitness to be a judge”; and the other side will be issuing veiled threats about ‘consequences’. This is neither what the vast majority of Guyanese need nor want. They want national leadership that is aimed at creating a modern, independent, de-politicized Elections Commission; not tribal leadership aimed at prolonging elections as an ethnic census.

The Carter-Price Formula has been debased into a tool for prolonging a tribal census. It is outdated, and should eventually be replaced by a modern, professional hiring-and-selection process that is completely out of the hands of the political parties. Nothing less can either guarantee Guyanese their right to genuine democracy, or investors the assurances they need.

The Carter-Price Formula, however, still allows huge improvement in the Elections Commission, if the political will is available to so interpret that formula.

The formalities of the Leader of the Opposition providing a list to the President, as required by Section 161 of the Constitution, imposes no restrictions whatever on how that list is generated. Nor need it be restricted to the Chairperson. An agreement by both men to create a professional, public, transparent and impartial process which generates a list of people who are capable and willing to be commissioners could then, as a formality, be presented by the Leader of the Opposition to the President for his acceptance.

All of this is entirely feasible within the current constraints of Article 161 if the national interest were motivating the exercise.

Barricading themselves within a pedantic interpretation of Section 161 of the Constitution, or invoking the need for constitutional reform as a way of avoiding electoral reforms, would be unacceptable to everyone, except the leadership of the two major parties.

An authoritative review of electoral practices around the world concluded that “Conclusive evidence from all regions of the world shows that, in 80% of all democracies, elections are run by independent electoral commissions either in a full manner (53%) or by supervising the work of agencies from the executive branch of government (27%).” In other words, Guyana’s current arrangements are associated with the more backward and autocratic minority countries, rather than with the range of modern approaches employed in established and emerging democracies around the world.

A reformed selection process could ensure selection of men and women who are perceived to be level-headed; impartial; possessing managerial capacity; collectively understand logistics, human resource management, technology, media and the country’s contemporary history. In terms of character, they must have sound leadership ability, an even temperament, be persons of integrity, and persons who are able to strengthen inclusivity. The key requirements are not legal; legal advice should always be independent, in any case.

However, given the bizarre current arrangement of appointing GECOM Commissioners for life, the process outlined above should be accompanied by a request from both leaders to all the current members of the Commission to voluntarily resign.

The GHRA is under no illusion that those steeped in ethnic politics would have difficulty finding ample excuses to prolong the current arrangements.

However, should the two leaders fail to provide the national leadership required for electoral reform, they must accept the responsibility for the inevitably prolonged race downwards to a 2020 election that is embroiled in ethnic antagonism and fuelled by desperation to control the new El Dorado of oil and gas.

Sincerely,

 

Executive Committee

Guyana Human Rights Association