Guyana Politics: No elections until April 2020 – Opinion

Opinion: No elections until April 2020

 Feb 20, 2019 – Kaieteur News,- Peeping Tom

No one, least of all the PPPC, should be surprised by the decisions of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), firstly that elections cannot be held within 90 days and secondly in favour of house-to-house registration.

In a politically polarized society, these decisions were always on the cards. And most of the Commissioners had previously telegraphed their positions where they stood.

It is no use trying to argue to the contrary to the unconverted. By now it should be that when it comes to political issues, reason is apt to become a victim of political interests, and no amount of rational arguments will convince those whose minds are already foreclosed to alternatives.    

No one is also going to advance the argument that in a seven-person commission, a majority is half plus one and since half of 7 is 3.5 this has to be rounded off to four, and then add one, making a majority five instead of four. Even those who employed ‘strange’ mathematics in arguing that 34 is a majority of 65 will now contradict themselves and hold that four is a majority of 7.

Elections are not going to be held until next year. If the urgency with which GECOM approached its preparation for elections, following the no-confidence vote, is anything to judge by, then house-to- house registration will take at least one year. Do not expect to be ready anytime sooner. We are therefore looking at a timeline for elections by April next year.

No amount of reasoning will change that. Neither will any shortening of this timeline reduce the fallout in public confidence in GECOM.

Nonetheless, (please read conjunctively) there are issues to be resolved. For one, GECOM’s excuse for not being ready for elections is that it does not have funds for elections. And second, it wants house-to house- registration for which funds have been approved.

GECOM is one of the constitutional agencies which enjoy financial autonomy under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA). It receives a subvention from the government, based on proposals which it submits to government and which have to be approved by the National Assembly.

Once GECOM receives a subvention, its spending cannot be dictated by the Ministry of Finance since the law allows GECOM financial autonomy. Incidentally it was the APNU+AFC which tabled that law which allows financial autonomy of certain constitutional agencies Parliament Office, Office of the Auditor General, Public and Police Service Commissions, Teaching Service Commission, Guyana Elections Commission, Supreme Court of Judicature and the Office of the Office of the Ombudsman.

In November 2018, the National Assembly approved G$6.3 billion for GECOM whose budget included house-to-house registration. The Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act of 2015 provided that once allocations are approved, the appropriations are supposed to be paid out in a lump sum to the agency.

What this means in practice, is that the Ministry of Finance cannot ration the appropriation approved for a Constitutional Agency. The law also provides that there can be no changes to the agency’s Budget without the prior approval of the National Assembly. This would mean that even though the agency enjoys financial autonomy in spending, it can only spend in accordance with its approved Budget.

The approved appropriations of GECOM would have included a hefty sum for house-to house- registration. But there was no allocation for elections, since GECOM could not have contemplated the intrigue of 21st December 2019. GECOM cannot use monies for house-to- house registration for elections, unless this is approved by the National Assembly.

As things stand therefore, the only way elections can be held is if the National Assembly approves monies for the holding of elections.

The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear since December last year that his party will only return to the National Assembly for election-related matters. Presumably, this includes extending the timeline for the holding of elections and approving monies for holding elections.

But it is almost certain that the government has no intention of approving any sums for elections until such time as house-to house registration is completed.

And the Opposition will insist that elections can be held without the need for house-to house registration and therefore it sees no need for extending the life of government to allow for house-to- house registration.

A constitutional crisis is now certain. Guyana is making history again and as usual for the wrong reasons.

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