September 30, 2016

Coalition cannot remove alleged child molester from Council

– Granger to seek explanation from Defensive Minister

By Vahnu Manickchand

The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition will not be able to legally removed one of its candidates – who has been accused and charged with sexual harassment and child molestation several times in the past, and who was successful at the recently concluded Local Government Elections.

President David Granger

President David Granger

Winston Harding

Winston Harding

Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence

Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence

Nonetheless, the party indicated that it will have to discuss the future of Candidate Winston Harding in the Georgetown Council. However, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has stated that there are no legal provisions for the party to ask the candidate to resign.
Harding had faced several charges for child sexual molestation over the years but was never convicted. This was brought to light after the man was already selected as the APNU/AFC candidate for Constituency 13 (East and West Ruimveldt).
On Wednesday last, the coalition withdrew its support from Harding’s candidature, saying that the party is “firmly against all forms of abuse, especially the abuse of women, children and the elderly.”
However, Harding went ahead and contested the local government polls during which he managed to win his constituency. This then raised concerns about whether the man would be recalled at the level of the party since he initially entered the race as an APNU/AFC candidate.
At a press conference on Saturday morning, President David Granger said that Harding’s removal from the Georgetown Council will have to be discussed at the level of party. “The matter will be discussed within the PNCR (People’s National Congress Reform) and our partners in the APNU… An announcement has already been made, and we stand by the announcement until it has been discussed within the PNC Councils and within the APNU,” he remarked.

Removal
But a few hours later, at a press briefing hosted by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Saturday, Commissioner Vincent Alexander pointed out that there are no provisions in Guyana’s local government legislation for the recall of an elected Councillor.
“Our legislation for local government does not provide for a recall of that sort,” Alexander stated.
The Elections body had come in for much criticism over the fact that it did not carry out the necessary background checks in relation to the screening of the candidate, and more so, still went ahead to count the votes for Harding following Friday’s voting.
But the GECOM Commissioner further explained that while the party would have withdrawn its support from the man, his name was still on the approved list of candidates and already on the printed ballot papers for the Constituency he contested. However, Alexander noted that the party can ask Harding to resign from the post of Councillor but the final decision would be left up to him whether he would assent to the request.
“There is no legal basis for the disqualification of the Candidate… It’s a moral question, it’s a political question but it’s certainly is not a legal question,” the Commission noted.

Defensive Minister Lawrence
Moreover, Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence is also facing heat on the matter after she was reported in local media as saying that the matter was family-related and should not have been handled the way it was.
“This is a family issue that has been going on and on and on and on for whatever reason, I can’t tell you because if I had a brother, even if there was an accusation, this is not how I would go about helping him,” she had stated.
The Minister’s comment sparked much outraged among rights activists, with several Non-Government Organisation (NGO) members picketing her Lamaha Street office on Friday, calling for her resignation.
In response to this call, President Granger told media operatives on Saturday that he did not receive a formal request to that effect but will, nevertheless, seek an explanation from Minister Lawrence about the matter.
“I was told the call was made to the President but the President didn’t receive no such call, but what I could say is that I will seek an explanation from Ms Lawrence about the circumstances under which Mr Harding was selected,” the Head of State remarked.

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