PNC/R stand threatens Local Government elections
-- Luncheon
Guyana Chronicle
April 25, 2002

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HEAD of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon yesterday said Local Government elections are doubtful this year because of the stance by the main Opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) of "active non-cooperation" with the Government and its putting the dialogue process on "pause".

He told reporters the "unfortunate decision" by the PNC/R now threatens the Local Government constitutional reform process that was being dealt with at the level of the bi-partisan committee, set up under the dialogue process President Bharrat Jagdeo began a year ago with PNC/R and Opposition Leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte.

Luncheon noted that the Government had planned for Local Government elections this year.

He told his regular post-Cabinet news briefing at the Office of the President that electoral reform in the Local Government system was one of the many matters being addressed "only" at the bi-partisan level.

"The absence of the PNC/R at the last two meetings of the committee has now jeopardised the timely conclusion of the Local Government constitutional reform process and in so doing creates for the Administration strong concerns about the ability to hold Local Government elections in 2002."

He said the Government is "not unmindful, of perhaps, an ulterior motive of the PNC/R Opposition in attempting to frustrate the much called for holding of Local Government elections in 2002".

With the dialogue on pause, then the bi-partisan committees that arose from the dialogue are also on pause, Luncheon pointed out.

He said Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Reepu Daman Persaud is likely to draw this matter to the attention of his PNC/R counterpart to "allow this momentary interruption in the work of the Local Government bi-partisan committee to cease and the work concluded."

The PNC/R has adopted a policy of "active non-cooperation" with the Government because of several perceived grievances with the Administration.

But Government spokesmen have denied PNC/R claims that measures promised under the dialogue have not advanced.

Elections for members to Local Democratic Organs have not been held since 1994 and the Local Government and Regional Development Ministry last month said it was aiming to hold Local Government elections in the third quarter of this year.

The Government Information Agency (GINA) had reported that Minister within the Local Government Ministry, Mr. Clinton Collymore met Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Dr. Steve Surujbally to discuss the work of the Joint Task Force on Local Government Reform.

Accompanying Surujbally at the meeting were acting Chief Election Officer, Mr. Gocool Boodoo and Deputy Chief Election Officer, Mr. Calvin Benn, the agency said.

Collymore told GINA the discussions were centred on the work of the joint Task Force and how GECOM could now be brought on stream.

He provided Surujbally with a detailed report of all aspects of the Task Force's work, including the 31 field consultations and the results, as well as requests of various communities.

Referring to the constitutional amendments which formed the basis of the job of the Task Force and the laws which have to be amended to facilitate the required changes, Collymore said he urged GECOM to do its best to ensure a smooth and transparent Local Government poll.

GINA said one measure engaging the attention of GECOM is the need to prepare an updated voters list.

The minister said he undertook to provide Surujbally with relevant documents, decisions and recommendations in a consolidated report after it was submitted to President Jagdeo and Hoyte this month.

The Task Force has retained a legal draftsman to commence work and two overseas experts, made available through the National Democratic Institute (NDI), were due to arrive early this month to assist with the preparations, GINA said.

The overseas experts are Dr. Benjamin Reilly, of Australia, who will assist with the election process, and Mr. Paul Smoke, of the United States, who will help with garnering resources.

Surujbally and his team are particularly interested in getting information on the electoral system to be used, the local government organs contesting the elections, the new organs being envisaged and the proposal for more towns and additional Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs), according to the agency.

This information, he stressed, is the key to the timing of the poll, assuring that he wants to hold clean, transparent and proper Local Government elections.

He said he would not want GECOM to be hurried along to meet rigid deadlines, GINA reported.

Both parties welcomed the interest being shown in the process by the NDI and the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES) and agreed that this augurs well in the final analysis, the agency said.

It said the two sides also concurred that the elections should be held as early as possible, taking into consideration the "overriding need for transparency and for a free and fair elections".

Formation of the Joint Task Force to deal with affairs of the Local Government Reform Process emerged from the dialogue between President Jagdeo and Hoyte.

The committee comprises members of the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the PNC/R and is co-chaired by Minister Collymore and representative of the PNC/R, Mr. Vincent Alexander.

Elections for new members of the Local Democratic Organs have been put off because of several reasons, including post-general election demonstrations in 1997 and 2001, GINA noted.