A bill that focuses on statutory electoral reform in Guyana is now being faced with calls for a referral to a special-select committee for added scrutiny. Advocating for this on behalf of the main Parliamentary Opposition, was Member of Parliament (MP), Amanza Walton-Desir.
She noted that the referral will provide ample opportunity for legislators to study “clause by clause”, changes being proposed to the Representation of the People Act (ROPA).
The bill was read the second time in the House and was first tabled earlier this month by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall.
In her opening remarks, Walton-Desir sought to shut down assumptions that the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) was against electoral reforms. She said that while the APNU+AFC “unequivocally” supports electoral changes, reforms must be “meaningful and earnest”.
Despite consultations being held prior to the drafting of the bill, Walton-Desir was adamant that more scrutiny is necessary given the importance of the bill in holding electoral officials and processes accountable. She noted that those consultations have no bearing on the bill’s refinement, adding that any further fine-tuning can only be achieved through parliamentary procedures.
She said that no responsible parliamentarian would allow the amendments to be “foisted” upon Guyanese without a closer examination of the proposed changes. She reminded the House that her party represents a vast majority of Guyanese, and therefore, democratic norms dictate that the government acquiesces to the opposition’s call for the bill’s referral.
At 20:15hrs, the shadow Foreign Affairs Minister noted that the House cannot effectively scrutinise the more than 40 proposed changes before the end of the sitting. She then concluded that the government is hellbent on using the “tyranny” of a one-seat majority to “ram” the proposed changes “down the throats” of Guyanese.
Further, the legislator noted that her party’s call for a referral is an appropriate response, given the “undemocratic” posture the governing PPP/C has adopted since 2020. She noted that Guyana is experiencing a “democratic backslide the likes of which this country has never seen”.
But Home Affairs Minister, Robeson Benn dubbed the call as “insincere”, claiming that the main parliamentary opposition squandered its opportunity to make inputs during the consultative process. Benn said that the Opposition members walked out of a consultation and refused to partake in future events. That consultative process, he added, was the appropriate forum for the opposition to raise the same concerns it has brought to the House’s attention in its bid for the bill’s referral.
The Minister disagreed with Walton-Desir’s claim that the imposition of harsher penalties serves as a deterrent to persons who are interested in taking top positions at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
Benn reminded the House that the March 2020 General and Regional Election was marred by rigging attempts which led to a five-month delay in the issuance of results. According to him, Guyanese must never again endure such calamitous events and therefore, the proposed changes are appropriate. The bill proposes, inter alia, life imprisonment and multimillion-dollar fines for those found guilty of attempting to thwart the will of the people, and a stipulated timeframe for the publication of Statements of Poll (SOPs).