Cooperative Republic of Guyana

Local gov’t elections… GECOM to get aggressive with voter education – Minister Bulkan

Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan addressing the press at his Kingston office

MINISTER of Communities Ronald Bulkan, has announced March 18, 2016 as the date for holding of the much-anticipated Local Government Elections.He has promised that, in the coming weeks, GECOM will roll out an aggressive civic and voter education programme in this regard; and the awareness campaign, officially launched approximately two weeks ago, will be intensified.

The minister told the press yesterday that GECOM has crafted a workplan which provides for aggressive roll-out of a comprehensive voters’ education programme. This vigorous programme will continue to inform the populace of the new Local Government Elections System, which comprises a mixture of the Constituency and Proportional Representation models under which political parties as well as individuals and interested groups may contest the elections.

Minister Bulkan gave the assurance that sufficient funding for this massive civic and voters’ education programme is already in place. This was confirmed by Deputy Chief Elections Officer Vishnu Persaud, who responded with a resounding: “Yes!” as he pointed out that in the 2015 National Budget, Local Government Elections were budgeted for as a separate programme under the Elections Commission.

In this year’s budget, approximately $2B has been budgeted for GECOM.

The Communities Minister predicted that the 2016 Local Government Elections will come at a high cost. He posited that it may actually cost more than the General and Regional Elections of 2015. The administration is convinced that this level of investment is critical, in keeping with its commitment made to restore local democracy in Guyana.

“For General and Regional Elections, we are actually dealing with 10 ballot papers, because they are unique to each region. Given the feature of constituency representation and the fact that there are 585 constituencies within the 71 organs, it means there will be 585 unique ballot papers for each of those constituencies,” Minister Bulkan explained.

And in response to criticisms that the APNU+AFC coalition government has been pressured into setting a date for Local Government Elections, Minister Bulkan said it is the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) that should hang its head in shame for failing to fulfil the promise made to the people of Guyana.

“In fact, it was the PPP who, prior to the 2011 elections, made a solemn pledge and a promise to hold Local Government Elections within one year,” if they were elected, the minister said. Despite this commitment, during the life of the 10th Parliament, the PPP refused to make good on its promise.

“When the Local Government Elections Amendment Bill was brought to the National Assembly in February 2014, which provided for the holding of Local Government Elections by December, 2014, it was the APNU that brought an amendment requiring that those elections be held by the 1st August 2014,” Minister Bulkan recalled.

While in Opposition during the 10th Parliament, APNU and AFC had used their combined majority to pass the amendment to the Local Authorities (Elections Amendment) Bill 2014, setting August 1, 2014 as the date by which Local Government Elections should have been held. The Bill was initially put before the House in January by then Local Government and Regional Development Minister Ganga Persaud, before he stepped down from office. In February, when it was presented for the second time by the then Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker, it was the intention of the PPP Government to postpone the long awaited elections for the 17th time; and though the then Opposition was successful in passing the Amendment, the then President, Donald Ramotar, never signed it into law.

“It was then Leader of the Opposition, Brigadier David Granger, who wrote to President Donald Ramotar requesting, or possibly demanding, that he (should) name a date for the holding of Local Government Elections, which was met with an unsuccessful response,” the Communities Minister further recalled.

Subsequently, President Granger, in the capacity as Leader of the Opposition, made an address to the nation in September, announcing the importance of having Local Government Elections. This announcement was followed by a series of picketing exercises in front of the then Office of the President.

“The PPP, or the former administration, were the ones who showed marked reluctance for the holding of Local Government Elections. It was the APNU, when it was in opposition, who was demanding that these elections be held,” Minister Bulhan recalled.