September 25, 2016

GECOM’s failings

High levels of arrogance, insensitivity and high-handedness have slowly turned into permanent characteristics of the leadership of the current Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) under the stewardship of Dr Steve Surujbally and a once humble Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield.
The Commission under their watch has become lazy, complacent, unresponsive and ineffective as far as executing the most important part of their mandate in relation to the upcoming and no doubt, historic Local Government Elections (LGE).
It is, therefore, not surprising that there is public outcry over the fact that Guyanese still do not understand the importance of these elections and the impact they will have on their livelihood and that of their communities.
It is also not shocking that a majority of those who find themselves eligible to vote and on the Official List of Electors do not even known how to vote, who to vote for or where to vote despite the elections are nigh upon us.
There is still much confusion in almost every constituency in understanding the new systems that were introduced by the Commission following the tabling and passage of a spate of reforms in the National Assembly with the hope of developing a system where these Local Government Elections are free, transparent and fair.
The truth is, GECOM waited too long to get various Voter Education Campaigns going. Regardless of what the boisterous Dr Surujbally will say, the Commission had over 22 years to prepare for these polls and should have done everything in and out of the elections season to train its staff, educate the electorate and partner with key civil society stakeholders to create more knowledge-driven and educated electorate as far as understanding the system is concerned.
Yet on the eve of these LGEs, GECOM in spending millions of hard-earned taxpayer’s dollars to fund voter education advertisements of poor broadcast quality that serve as a turn-off to the educated, and entertainment to the masses.
The objective of getting the messages across is lost in the poorly scripted pieces for radio and television which do not address the crux of what Local Government Elections are about.
That aside, the political parties recognising GECOM’s ineffectiveness, continued failings and shortcomings have had to do most if not all of the groundwork themselves because obviously they are running with the aim of winning these elections in various constituencies.
One would have taught that the poor turnout at the polls from the Disciplined Services would have forced the Surujballys of our world to accept that something is wrong and more needs to be done to push the electorate to come to the fore, participate in the system and vote correctly.
But GECOM appears contented with the work done by the questionable USAID-funded youth driven Vote Like A Boss Campaign which in itself has gotten cold and boring, and the support given by its diplomatic partners.
There is no momentum surrounding these elections despite them having not been held for over two decades and it is because GECOM did not cover its base.
Also, the manner in which GECOM publicly responds to the main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic whenever issues or complaints are raised via the media is worrying but very indicative that the organisation is adopting an old familiar posture whenever its staff and candidates commit infractions in the lead-up to these elections.
Surely, the current APNU/AFC cannot be satisfied with GECOM’s preparatory work and voter education campaign but a previously vocal and up-right Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan has gone down under and is in hiding. He appears busy doing the kind of political work that is characteristic of past PNC Local Government Ministers ahead of these polls.
The bottom-line is, if GECOM continues in this vein, these elections will not see the return of the brand of democracy that President Granger while in opposition had touted… they will not see a return of enthusiasm at the local community level nor will they see the impact of the hard fought for and passed electoral reforms.
As two of the Vice Presidents in the Government whose party members have a lot of experience with cutting things, stripping themselves in public places, and hauling people’s asses would say “GECOM is cutting its noise to spoil its face” and maybe going through a period of “controlled freakism”.
Hopefully, Moses is not involved this time in leading GECOM through the great red sea!

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