Describing it as “a good piece of law-making” Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall this evening presented the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill for debate and passage.
Opening the debate, Nandlall presented three main reasons why such a piece of legislation is needed. Nandlall said the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) is over 100-years-old. Therefore, by sheer passage of time, one may accept that new life needs to be breathed into it. Secondly, the Act needs to benefit from various pertinent pieces of legislation that have been passed over the years.
Thirdly, Nandlall said that the amendments are needed in order to address lacunas in the law that were abused in recent history and most evident during the 2020 General and Regional Elections.
Nandlall noted that Guyana’s electoral laws were passed decades before, “in a very piecemeal manner.”
He said it was indeed difficult to assemble the various pieces of legislation and to try to understand them in a chronological and coherent way in order to consolidate and revise.
Nandlall told the assembly that even without the valuable amendments, the exercise has been a great one for Guyana’s law revision process. “Even if we have accomplished nothing more, we accomplished a lot.”
Nandlall said that the amendments meet the constitution litmus test as ROPA and the Registration Act were brought in conformity with the four corners of the constitution.
The AG said that the bill is so precise that he could not go through each provision. He therefore opted to speak on conspicuous and salient aspects of the proposed reform.
He recalled that E- day was pulled off without any major issues. “It was when the tabulation of votes for District 4 began that the mad orchestra began to play. It gave the world an opportunity to see how discretion can be misused.”
Nandlall said that as a direct response to the shenanigans of District Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo as displayed during the March 2020 elections, no one person will be in charge of tabulation for Districts Four, Six or Three. These regions will now have sub districts and counting of votes cast in those areas will no longer be done at one place. Instead, counting will take place in the sub-districts. Regions Three and Six will have three sub-districts while Region four will have four. Sub districts will be manned by supernumerary officers.
Nandlall noted that the basis of tabulation can now only be Statements of Polls.
The AG pointed out that major criminal offences are created with the amendments and high terms of imprisonment are imposed.
Anyone who impersonates a voter is subject to criminal offences. Anyone who obstructs a voter, removes an SOP from outside a polling station; obstructs an election agent from carrying out his or her duty or is generally found guilty of electoral fraud is subject to criminal offences. Penalties for these offences range from a fine of $5M and five years jail time to a fine of $10M with 10 years jail time.
Nandlall highlighted provisions in the bill that will address overcrowding of polling stations. He said that no more than 400 electors can vote at a polling station. The amendments also made prescriptions the size of polling places and accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The Chief Elections Officer (CEO) also has to publish, in the national gazette, the list of polling stations at least five days before E-Day.
Nandlall said that he is ready to debate anyone who claims there is any provision in the amendments that will benefit only the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C).
The AG noted that the bill has been in the public domain for just about one year and was the subject of wide consultation and extensive commentary. The bill benefitted from those recommendations and submissions. He said, “This is a good piece of law which every sensible Guyanese should throw their full force behind.”