About the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is the entity that is responsible for the administration and conduct of elections in Guyana. GECOM is headed by a Chairman and six Commissioners. GECOM is supported by core staff in its Secretariat. The work of the Commission is supplemented in its elections preparation and administration by thousands of temporary staff.
Issues Related to the Evolution of GECOM:
Prior to 1991, the Elections Commission was comprised of a Chairman who was appointed by the President and one member in respect of each political party, including the governmental party, which had not less than five seats in the National Assembly. The Chairman of this Elections Commission had to be a person who at the time was holding or had held office as a Judge of a Court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court or who is qualified to be appointed as any such Judge. This Commission had a temporary life in that a member had to vacate office within three months of the date of the election for which he/she was appointed to be a Commissioner. [See Article 161, Constitution of Guyana 1980.]
Electoral reform in Guyana started in 1990 and continued throughout the period preceding the 2001 General and Regional elections. During this process, the composition of the Commission was changed in time for the management of the 1992 general elections. For the 1992 and 1997 elections, the Elections Commission was still a temporary institution constituted for each election. For example the Commission established by virtue of the Constitution Amendment Act No. 15 of 1995 had a limited life in that it only existed between the 12th December 1995 and the date of expiry of three months after the date of the General Elections of December 15, 1997.
The present GECOM was established in May 2000 by virtue of the Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2000, which repealed and re-enacted article 161 of the Constitution on the basis of recommendations emerging from the Constitution Reform Commission that were ratified by Parliament. The re-enacted article 161 re-states the same mechanism for the appointment of the Commission as provided for since the 1992 general election but the Commission is now established as a permanent one. There is as yet no provision for a time limit or the period that Commissioners are to serve. All of the powers which were previously exercised by or on behalf of the Minister responsible for the preparation for and administration of elections are now vested in the Commission. See section 10 of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act No. 15 of 2000.
Appointment of the Chairperson and Commissioners:
The Chairman shall be a person who holds, has held or is qualified to hold the office of Judge of the High Court or the Court of Appeal or any other fit and proper person who is appointed from a list of six persons, who are not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition after he has meaningfully consulted with the non-governmental political parties represented in the National Assembly. If the Leader of the Opposition does not submit such a list of persons then the President shall appoint a person who holds, has held or is qualified to hold the office of Judge of the High Court or the Court of Appeal.
[See Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2000]
In addition to the Chairman, the Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2000 also provides for the appointment of six (6) members of the Commission in the following manner -
(a) Three (3) members appointed by the President, acting in his own deliberate judgement.
(b) Three (3) members appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition after he has meaningfully consulted the non-governmental opposition parties represented in the National Assembly.
Under the existing provisions, a non-Guyanese cannot be appointed as Chairperson or member of the Commission.
Current Chairperson and Commissioners:
The current Commission is comprised as follows -
Justice (ret'd) James Patterson, Chairman
Mr. Vincent Alexander, Member
Mr. Charles Corbin, Member
Mr. Desmond Trotman, Member
Ms. Bibi Safora Shadick, Member
Mr. Robeson Benn, Member
Mr. Sase Gunraj, Member
Rules of Procedure:
Quorum of GECOM
Article 226 of the Constitution as amended by the Constitution (Amendment) Act, No. 2 of 2000 provides for the quorum for a meeting of the Commission which shall be the Chairman and not less than four members of the Commission – two each appointed by the President and the Opposition respectively. If at any stage of a duly summoned meeting, a quorum is not present due to the absence of members without good cause to be determined by the Chairman then the meeting is to be adjourned for two calendar days. If the meeting was to determine the declaration of the results of the presidency, and there is no quorum, then the meeting shall be adjourned to the next day. If at the adjourned meeting there is still no quorum then, the members then present, being not less than four members including the Chairman, shall be deemed to be a quorum and any decision made at any such adjourned meeting shall be valid and binding.
Responsibility of the Chairman
All directions and instructions shall be issued orally or in writing through the Chairperson while all instruments and communications emanating from the Commission shall be issued or made under the signature of the Chairman or any person authorized by him in writing. All communications to the Commission shall be to the Chairman. [Elections Laws (Amendment ) Act No. 15 of 2000].
Role of GECOM
GECOM sets policy for voter registration, maintenance of the voters' list and the administration of all national, regional and local government elections within the legislative framework, whilst the Permanent Elections Secretariat implements the policy under the supervision of the Chief Election Officer (CEO). The Secretariat also performs the tasks of the National Registration Centre under the National Registration Act, Chapter 19:08 and the CEO acts as the National Commissioner for Registration. The National Registration Centre has responsibility for the registration of electors and maintenance of the registers whereas the Secretariat has responsibility for administering elections. GECOM is constitutionally obliged to act with impartiality and fairness in the execution of its duties (162 (1) [b], Constitution (Amendment) Act).
GECOM is insulated from executive interference in the performance of its functions. By virtue of article 226 of the Constitution GECOM, like other constitutional Commissions shall not be subject to the direction and control of any other person or authority. Schedules for the conduct of General, Regional and Local Government Elections are decided upon by the Commission once a date for the election is announced by the President. Also, it is the Commission which decides on the location of polling stations and counting centres, assignment of voters to polling stations, arrangements to be made in and around polling stations and counting centres and all related matters.
The Commission’s Secretariat and Election Machinery:
Article 161A of the Constitution as inserted by the Constitution (Amendment) Act, No.2 of 2000 states that the Commission is responsible for the efficient functioning of the secretariat and the appointment of both permanent and temporary staff of the Commission. GECOM determines the terms and conditions of their employment including the power to discipline and dismiss. The staff are therefore not classified as public servants. Both section 2 of the Elections Laws (Amendment ) Act No. 9 of 2000 and section 17 of the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act No. 15 of 2000 provide for that this secretariat be a permanent one to "ensure institutional memory and capacity".
Because the preparation of the list of electors is based on the registration of persons, GECOM also has the responsibility of registering persons who have attained the age of fourteen and issuing them with National Identification Cards. The National Registration Act (Cap 19:08) provides for the establishment of a National Register, for the issue of identification cards and other related matters which include the method of revision of the List of Electors.
The Commission’s Budget
Section 21 of the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act No. 15 of 2000 provides that the expenses incurred by the Commission, including those for the payment of salaries and emoluments of its officers and employees, shall be paid for out of a fund approved by Parliament. In actuality, the budget is prepared by the Secretariat and finalised through consultation between representatives of the Commission and the Ministry of Finance prior to its approval by the National Assembly.
Political Parties and the Commission
Article 161B of the Constitution as amended by the Constitution (Amendment) (No. 3) Act No. 14 of 2000 provides that the role of political parties or their nominees shall “be limited to their participation in determining policy, monitoring the electoral process and the conduct of the election, but does not include active management of the electoral process.”
Political parties are registered with the Commission as required by the Laws of Guyana. Registered political parties are granted recognition to participate at General, Regional and Local Government Elections, which are held at periodic intervals.
The Commission facilitates consultations with political parties, as may become necessary or as requested, on issues related to the conduct of elections and other matters of electoral significance. In order to facilitate the confidence building process approved by the Commission, the Chief Elections Officer and the Secretariat maintains regular meetings with the Chief Scrutineers of political parties.
With the establishment of the new Elections Commission in 2000, many individuals and organizations made contact with the Commission's Secretariat enquiring about the procedures to be followed in order to participate in the General and Regional Elections, 2001.
Prior to nomination day, twenty five (25) political parties indicated their intentions to contest the General and Regional Elections, 2001.
The Commission acknowledges all letters of intent to contest the elections and the Secretariat forwards on a regular and timely basis, relevant documents on the elections.
GECOM engages in mutually active relationships with all media houses (electronic/broadcast/print) with the objective of continuously enhancing and maintaining a favourable public image through the dissemination of information on the Commission's policies and activities. This is normally done through timely Media Releases, Press Conferences/Briefings when appropriate and the granting of interviews on specific topics if and when requested. In view of this objective, the Commission has established a permanent Public Relations Office through which enquires relating to electoral matters are channeled for adequate responses in a timely manner.
MEMBERS OF THE MEDIA ARE NOT ALLOWED
INSIDE POLLING STATIONS
The Guyana Elections Commission has an open policy to the media. This includes the hosting of briefings for the print, electronic and broadcast media as may be necessary outside of election mode, and regular periodic briefings during election periods. The Commission also issues Media Releases on specific matters which it believes to be of interest to the general public. Additionally, interviews on any topic relevant to the conduct of elections in Guyana are granted to journalists desirous of conducting such interviews.
The Commission is in the process of establishing a library in order to facilitate access to relevant published reports and documents on electoral activities in Guyana in order to facilitate research by local and international journalists as well as for the academic fraternity and researchers in general.
In the absence of any modern media legislation an Advisory Committee on Broadcasting (ACB) was established on November 15, 2002 as a semi-autonomous body.
GECOM has an excellent relationship with the ACB, which is charged with specific responsibilities to monitor and make recommendations on the broadcast of questionable programmes. The Commission intends to work very closely with the ACB during elections periods in particular with the aim of ensuring that the circumstances surrounding any issue relative to elections in Guyana are reported accurately.
Prior to the establishment of the ACB, and in relation to the 2001 General and Regional Elections, the media, with the encouragement of GECOM drew up a Media Code of Conduct. In signing the Code, the media generally agreed to play impartial, fair and objective roles in covering the activities of all political contestants, particularly in terms of accurate and balanced reporting.
The signatories to the Code based their acceptance and subscription to the Code on the fact that neither the Government nor GECOM would impose any restraints or censorship on any publication by the media. Thus it was hoped that moral suasion would be a sufficient deterrent to inaccurate comments and biased reporting. In order to buttress the Code of Conduct, GECOM established its own Media Monitoring Unit (MMU) which provided the media with regular reports in the run up to polling day for the 2001 General and Regional Elections.
Racial Hostility Act and the Elections
The Representation of the People (Amendment) Act No. 1 of 2001 deals with the issue of racial hostility and the elections. This Act it states that it is a criminal offence for any person to make or publish or cause to be made or published any statement or take any action that results in or can result in racial or ethnic violence or hatred among people. Where a person is convicted of this offence then he/she would be barred from being a member of the National Assembly or a local democratic organ or from holding any constitutional or statutory office for five years from the date of conviction. Where a person has been convicted then the Registrar of the Supreme Court must send the information about the conviction to the Chairperson of the Ethnic Relations Commission for his/her consideration and action. The notes of evidence should also be sent to the Chairperson of the Ethnic Relations Commission who, if he is of the opinion that the evidence discloses the involvement of a political party, shall summon the Leader or other representative of the party to a meeting with the Commission. If the Commission finds the party culpable, in that the racial publication was published by or on behalf of the party, and the party has not disassociated itself from the statement or the action, then the Chairperson of the Ethnic Relations Commission shall send the information and findings to the Chairman of the Elections Commission and to the suspect political party. Then based on these findings GECOM shall not accept any list of candidates for an election from the party for five years from the date of notification to the Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commission. Where the Ethnic Relations Commission finds the political party culpable, then the party is subject to a fine which is currently $500,000.00.
In addition, the Racial Hostility Act, Chapter 23:01 as amended by the Racial Hostility Amendment Act No. 9 of 2002 provides for increased penalties for the Commission of offences and evidential issues.
GECOM has been the recipient of financial and technical support from international Organizations and Donor Countries which promote acceptable elections administration through international cooperation. Donor support for the National and Regional Elections of 2001 arose out of a Needs Assessment Study for the Organization of General and Regional Elections in Guyana, Commissioned by the European Union and carried out by consultants Andrew Ellis and Luc Zwanepoel in early 2000.
The final report of that study, dated March 31, 2000, presented a budget for the elections and detailed the areas needing support. It also informed and formed the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by the Government of Guyana, Representatives of the Donor Community and GECOM on June 19, 2000. Under the MOU, funding was secured from the European Union (EU), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Kingdom Department for International Development (UKDFID), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The Commission continues to receive support form the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and has benefited from the expertise of several Consultants who were assigned here by that body to advise on electoral reforms for upcoming Local Government Elections and a comprehensive organisational structure for GECOM.