‘Victory without any prize’
Scrutineer ruling against Gecom sets important precedents - AFC
Stabroek News news item. Thursday 19 June 2008
The Alliance For Change (AFC) yesterday said that the Guyana Court of Appeal ruling against Gecom on the apportioning of funds for scrutineers sets important precedents and the party is prepared to challenge any new list generated since its monitors were excluded from the process.
The party executive also accused the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) of taking a confrontational approach to it and is now questioning Gecom’s ability to impartially and neutrally administer any election in which it will participate.
AFC Leader Raphael Trotman made these allegations at a press briefing held two days after the Guyana Court of Appeal decision that money ought to have been allocated to Opposition parliamentary parties for scrutineering activities based on the number of seats they held instead of granting the main opposition PNCR a lump sum.
The ruling went against Gecom’s decision to allocate half of the $100M Parliament approved for scrutineering activities to the PNCR only, since it does not constitute the combined Opposition parties, and it upheld a decision handed down by High Court judge, Justice Jainarayan Singh Jr in the matter. Justice Singh had ruled that there be a proportionate allocation of scrutineers’ money to the combined opposition. Gecom had refused to abide by the order and instead appealed.
No contact had been made between the AFC and Gecom at the time of the press conference yesterday, and AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan said that preparations were being made for the order along with an attached letter to be sent to the Commission for discussions to take place. Reading a prepared statement, Ramjattan told the media that the party was always confident that Justice Singh’s decision would be affirmed by the appellate court “otherwise [it] would have been unfair, unjust and most unreasonable, if not wholly perverse.” He then said that though the determination of the case may be a “victory without any prize” for the AFC, the Guyanese people are the biggest winners on two very important legal issues.
Ramjattan said the principle was now firmly established that Gecom as a constitutional entity must act fairly to avoid scrutiny by the judiciary and secondly, that a significant precedent was now established that any public- spirited citizen will have locus standi to institute legal proceedings against any government wrong-doing so as to ensure the upholding of the rule of law. He also contended that Gecom has lost its credibility and should begin a process of rehabilitation in this regard since the court condemned its conduct for not responding to the AFC in the High Court, as wholly unacceptable for a constitutional body of such importance.
Ramjattan said the Commission could start to work towards a genuinely professional and independent culture by first requesting of the PNCR-1G and PPP/C the names of all the scrutineers who worked during the registration exercise and the money paid to each, and publicise this information on its website for public scrutiny.
Sixteen days left
Meanwhile, the House-to-House Registra-tion Exercise comes to a close in just over two weeks. Following the input of data, Gecom will move to create a National Register of Registrants from which the voters list will be pulled for future elections. Yesterday the AFC reiterated that it was possible for them to challenge the transparency of the next voters list since its scrutineers were not involved in the registration exercise. The party said they had no assurance that their scrutineers would have been paid therefore they did not participate.
Further, Trotman said the fact that his party was excluded from the scrutineering process does not bind it to the agreement that all the parties signed prior to the start of the registration exercise. “So we reserve the right to challenge the credibility of any list because the fact that we were excluded does not bind us to the agreement in which we had agreed that we will not challenge the list,” he said. Trotman contended that Gecom has placed itself in a confrontational position with the party making it, “Gecom versus AFC” and so calling into question the Commission’s credibility to conduct free and fair elections.
On Monday, in dismissing Gecom’s appeal, the Court which comprised acting Chancellor Carl Singh and Justices Nandram Kissoon and Yonette Cummings-Edwards said there is no law which says the PNCR should receive the proportion that it was allocated. Opposition parliamentary parties the AFC and the Guyana Action Party/Rise Organise and Rebuild were therefore entitled to proportionate allocations of the money handed out.
Speaking to this newspaper on the day of the ruling, Ramjattan had said that though the registration process has begun the party would seek an immediate meeting with Gecom to advise them of the court’s ruling.
Contacted yesterday for a comment following the AFC press conference, Gecom Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally told this newspaper that the commission had received a letter from the party and it would decide on a day to meet to discuss the issue. “So I find it disingenuous of the AFC to go ahead and make such statements and accusations not having met with us as yet,” Surujbally said when this newspaper told him of some of the AFC’s assertions. (Heppilena Ferguson)