…as Gov’t sets aside $1.1B for Local Government Elections
By Svetlana Marshall
March 4, 2021
Approximately $1.1B has been included in the 2021 National Budget for the hosting of Local Government Elections by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) this year, but the absence of budgetary funding for the conduct of House-to-House Registration to generate a new Voters’ List ahead of those elections resulted in a heated exchange of words as the main opposition – the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) – pressured the Government for answers.
It was APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, David Patterson, who, during the Consideration of Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure in the Committee of Supply on Wednesday, sought to ascertain from the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, what percentage of the $4B budgeted for the Elections Commission will be used to conduct Local Government Election.
In response, Minister Teixeira detailed that approximately $237.7M has been set aside for print and non-print materials to facilitate the Local Government Elections including the acquisition of 500,000 ballot papers; $135M for Training and Scholarship, of which $18M would be used to train 8,500 Elections Day staff; $100M for the Commission’s Voters’ Education Programme; $32.8M for fuel and lubricants to transport GECOM staff to the 1,700 polling stations that would be spread across the Local Government areas; $81.6M for the rental of buildings, including private buildings to house polling stations; and $89.2M for refreshment and meals on Elections Day among other areas. Overall, $1.1B has been budgeted to facilitate the elections promised by the PPP/C Administration but the noticeable absence of funds for the conduct of House-to-House Registration did not sit well with the APNU+AFC.
In response to a question posed by MP Patterson, the Government’s Chief Whip informed the Committee of Supply, chaired by Speaker of the National Assembly Manzoor Nadir, that there was no provision in the $383.1B Budget for the facilitation of House-to-House Registration.
“That I believe would be a decision of the Commission, and if the Commission makes that decision and additional funds are required, we know what happens, we come back for Supplementary [funding] to this House,” Minister Teixeira said in an attempt to allay the concern of the main opposition.
Picking up where MP Patterson and a number of other APNU+AFC Members left up, Opposition Member of Parliament Tabitha Sarabo-Halley sought to ascertain why there were no budgetary allocations for House-to-House Registration, which the coalition strongly believes ought to result in the generation of a new National Register of Registrants and ultimately a fresh Voters’ List.
It has long been the coalition’s contention that the current Voters’ List is bloated with “dead people” and persons, who have long migrated – a position it held – ahead of the controversial March 2020 General and Regional Elections.
Against that background, MP Sarabo-Halley enquired, who prepared the budget, and when it was disclosed that a technical team from the Elections Secretariat had compiled the document and had it approved by the Elections Commission, the Opposition MP then sought to ascertain why the seven-member Commission, chaired by Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh would approve such a budget without the inclusion of funds for House-to-House Registration, when the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Observer Mission had recommended that there be a new Voters’ List given the discrepancies that arose during the 2020 Elections.
“Chairman, I repeat, that is not a question I can answer here, that is an issue for the Chairman and the Commissioners and if the Opposition has a concern, they should go to the Chairman of the Commission. That is not an issue that can be answered in this House under the budget,” Minister Teixeira said in response to the concerns raised by MP Sarabo-Halley.
But MP Sarabo-Halley did not stop there. Determined to get an answer, the Opposition MP enquired whether the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration is in support of the recommendations by CARICOM for GECOM to put in place a new Voters’ List before the country heads to another elections, be it General or Local.
“As a minimum condition of electoral reform, the Team recommends that the urgent need for the total re-registration of all voters in Guyana,” the CARICOM Observer Mission had said approximately three months after the conduct of the March 2020 Election, adding that it was “clear that given the state of the voter registration of the country that Guyana was not adequately prepared for the 2020 poll.”
But the Minister of Parliamentary Affair and Governance said that recommendation was just one of many recommendations not only made by CARICOM but the Organisation of American States (OAS), the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the Carter Centre among other Observer Missions following the highly disputed 2020 Elections.
The Government Chief Whip made it clear that she was not going to commit to a single recommendation, noting that there are many issues to be raised with GECOM, including the need to prevent any attempt at hijacking future elections.
“The issue I think that is before us Mr Chair, is a recognition that there were obviously some issues in the last elections, and if you look at all of the reports that came out, they said that there was an issue with the Voters’ List and so if the Secretariat is preparing for a new Local Government Elections, or any elections at this stage, one of the foundations has to be, who is going to vote at that elections, and so with that in mind, I am asking whether or not the Government is ready and willing to put all hands on deck to ensure that there is a new Voters’ List before we go to an election,” MP Sarabo-Halley reasoned as she put another question to the Minister.
Clearly agitated, the Government’s Chief Whip, in response, said: “Mr Speaker, one of the recommendations from one of the reports says that criminal charges should be brought against people responsible for hijacking the elections. Will the Honourable Member support us on that? Will the Honourable Member support us on that?”
But MP Sarabo-Halley did not back down, as she pressed the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance for an answer on Government’s position on the matter.
“Mr Chairman, I am not GECOM, therefore I cannot speak on behalf of GECOM on a policy matter. I am here as a conduit to deal with the budgetary request of the Guyana Elections Commission that is what I am dealing with,” the Minister responded.
Meanwhile, in response to another question posed by MP Patterson, Minister Teixeira informed the Committee that the decision to procure 500,000 ballot papers was based the 2018 Local Government Elections. It was noted that 80% of Guyana’s voting population votes during Local Government Elections.