Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill 2014 – Bill No. 3/20143435 10 Feb, 2014
Mr. Nandlall: I endeavour not to be as long as my predecessors. The Bill, which is before the House, is a simple one and it is one that seeks to adjourn the holding of Local Government Elections. We have heard almost every conceivable argument under the sun in relation to the benefits of local democracy, the purpose of elections, the importance of elections to a people and to a system of democracy.
I do not think that anyone, on this side of the House, or on that side of the House, would dispute the importance of holding of elections be those elections, General Elections or Local Government Elections as they are an important part of the constitutional process of our country and they an important factor in the democratic equation of our country. I just want to put that to rest. It makes no sense for us to lament how important of elections are; we know how important they are. We live in a country where elections were for a long period of time and there was a continuous denial of democracy for 28 years, we understand the importance of democracy. We do not need to be lectured upon. [Interruption from the Opposition Members.] The orchestra has begun. From time I mentioned the words “rigged elections” the band has begun to play. All I am doing…
Mr. Speaker, you know we speak regularly about healing and about political maturity, but unless we accept that elections were rigged from 1968 to 1992 then we cannot move beyond that point. The international observers had documented that, we have participated in the process, people have been killed, people have been murdered, the army stole ballots, ballots were found floating down the Demerara and Essequibo Rivers. Those are facts of political life in this country.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Attorney General, you give a very general list but you became very specific when you said that the army stole ballots. I have no doubt that I am going to be hearing from it about that so be very careful.
Mr. Nandlall: Very well, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: You are being very general.
Mr. Nandlall: Yes. I appreciate that.
Mr. Speaker: I do not know if you wish to… Let me say something. When Mrs. Backer, in this House, made a statement about the army possibly going to Haiti and … she was brought before the Committee of Privileges for that statement.
Mr. Nandlall: I will not detain the House.
Mr. Speaker: I think I need you to withdraw on that.
Mr. Nandlall: I withdraw that, quickly, Sir. I have no difficulty with that.
The role which various agencies of the state played in the undermining of democracy by participating in the rigging of elections are well documented, Sir. I want to move beyond that because in 1992 we had a return of democracy and from since then every single general election was held and certified to be free and fair election by international observers. That is the current status. However, I concede that we have not been able to replicate that in the arena of local democracy and we have to work to change that. That is want we have to do.
I have heard the Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan and I would excuse him because he has recently entered the Parliament; the Hon. Member, Mr. Trotman spoke and he recently entered the Parliament as well, but the question of Local Government Elections in this country has had a particular history. The impression, which has been conveyed, is as if Government stood stagnant and static and idly by and omitted and refused and neglected to hold this election. There was a bipartisan and bilateral approach between the two major political parties in this country that lasted over 12 years in relation to Local Government Election.
A task force was established. In fact, Your Honour, the process initiated at the behest of the Opposition that we should have a consensus approach and formula in relation to local democracy in our country. A task force was established by the then Hon. Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin and a Government team was appointed, and an Opposition team was appointed. That team worked for a number of years, together, to formulate a consensus and consensual approach in relation to Local Government Election. This Bill has been coming to this Parliament…
I remember my learned friend…I want to congratulate him on his recent elevation. I pause here to congratulate the Hon. Member Basil Williams, my colleague, for his elevation to the very prestigious position of Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly. [Ms. Ally: Do not forget he is coming after you.] It is no problem; he is my friend. I remember distinctly that my learned friend would have stood annually in this Assembly and he will say that he is part of an annual pilgrimage to adjourn this, that he was doing it unanimously. It was used to be both parties in the National Assembly that used to pass this very Bill year after year. It was only the year 2013 that we are hearing from the Opposition that it wants Local Government Election and that is as a result of the 2011 General Election. [Mr. B. Williams: What is wrong with that?] Nothing is wrong with that, but all I am doing…If we are going to debate in the highest debating forum in the land then we must accept the facts. We must not have newcomers such as Mr. Bulkan and Mr. Desmond Trotman misleading the record of this House.
I just thought that we would put the records straight. [Interruption from the Opposition Members.] I am not disrespecting the Hon. Members. All I am asking is that the record must reflect what our history is, recent history, in relation to Local Government Elections. It was never a one-sided affair; it was a bipartisan consensual approach until the year 2013.
Another factor, another argument, which has been completely ignored, in this entire debate, is the readiness of an important institution in relation to the holding of elections. As I said, we have had a recent history, from 1992 to now, even though elections were held and certified to be free and fair those elections results were repeatedly rejected and all manner of suspicions were cast on the process and the results which led to violence, which led to unrest, which led to all sorts of confusions in our country. Therefore armed with that history, armed with that factual precedent, we have to take into account the readiness of that important institution which the Constitution has ascribed the responsibility of administering elections in our country and that is GECOM. I have not heard anything in this debate which tends to suggest that anyone has asked GECOM what the state of its readiness is.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Nandlall, that would go on both sides because you are asking for an adjournment without even finding out it needs for an adjournment.
Mr. Nandlall: No. I am going to tell our position. Our information is based upon the information that we have received from our Commissioners. I do not understand how the report has been different from the Commissioners representing the Opposition. Our report, from our Commissioners, is that GECOM is not ready for Local Government Election now. [Mr. Felix: GECOM said it can be readied.] GECOM said it can be readied for General Elections. We have to understand that the legislation and the statutory framework, under which these elections are going to be held are new, are different and different systems have to be put into placed. There are constituencies which are going to be created for these elections which never existed before. Voters’ list will have to be prepared for each of those constituencies. My information is that GECOM is not prepared in relation to that process and therefore elections cannot, whether we want it or not, be held because the institution, which has to ready itself for elections to be held, is currently not ready.
There is an amendment which is being proposed by Mr. Bulkan and the amendment seeks to bring forward rather the election the date. The Government is proposing next year, the amendment is proposing that it be held August, this year. In 500 years of recorded parliamentary democracy, the executive has always held the power and the authority to fix election date, all over the world and there is no exception. The fixing of the election date is a power that has always been in the preserve of the executive.
Mr. Speaker: Explain what happens in the United States of America, for example, where it is the second Tuesday in November every fourth year. That is statutory.
Mr. Nandlall: That is statutory. In our Constitution the executive, the President, has the power to fix the date for general election. The President has the power here. The power is an executive power. The statutory position in relation to Local Government Elections is governed by an Act of Parliament passed by this very Parliament. It is the Local Authorities Elections Act, Chapter 28:03 states this. Section 35 reads as follow:
“An election shall be held on such day as the Minister may by order appoint.”
It is the Parliament, not the National Assembly. This is the National Assembly. The Parliament of the country has already conferred upon the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development the authority to call election.
“…and under this section it shall be published in the Gazette a copy thereof published by the local authority to which it relates.”
That is the order has to be published.
“If the Minister is satisfied at the holding of an election on election day would be attended by danger or serious hardship, he may by order postpone the election to a day specified in the order…”
This is a recent amendment. This is not an amendment going back to the 1980s; this is an amendment passed recently by this House, in the 1990s.
The point I am making is that the Parliament has given the Minister the power. The National Assembly cannot seek to take away that power from the Minister unless it enjoys unanimous support and, obviously, it does not enjoy unanimous support. This is an amendment that will go nowhere. Since we have no definitive word from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), I suggest that we accept the Government’s position. That is the most sensible thing to do.
As I said, Parliament has resided the power. Parliament, comprising the National Assembly and the President, has appointed the Minister to fix the date. The Minister has brought an amendment here to fix the date to a date next year and this National Assembly is seeking to force the Minister to an earlier date without any certification and without any indication from the Guyana Elections Commission as to its state of readiness. The amendment which is being sought by the Opposition is premature and, in fact, it is careless. It is complete carelessness for the National Assembly by itself to fix a date for elections without consultation and confirmation from GECOM as to the state of its readiness.
As I have said, GECOM may have said something about general elections. I have not heard a definitive report and I challenge my Friends on the other side to produce some evidence of GECOM’s readiness. They cannot. None of them has alluded to that in their presentations and there is a reason why. It is because the preparation for local government election is a work in progress at the GECOM.
For those reasons and in those circumstances, I support the Minister’s Bill and I do not support the amendment to the Bill which is sought.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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