Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Chairman of GECOM
(Aired 7 September 2002)

    Recently we saw a release from the Guyana Elections Commission, GECOM, the release informed us that the chairman of GECOM Dr. Surujbally had met with Sir Paul Reeves and they discussed possible solutions for restarting the dialog between Mr. Jagdeo and Mr. Hoyte. I am not certain why Sir Paul would go to the Chairman of the Elections Commission to find out if Hoyte will speak to Jagdeo.

   First let us look at what the position of chairman of GECOM is, and how is he supposed to function?

    The chairman of the Elections Commission is a full time constitutional appointment, at what can only be described as a very huge salary and conditions for this country, no Judge in this country gets anywhere near what he is getting, he must first of all be completely impartial in the way he will supervise and conduct our elections, i.e. he must have no other agenda and he must be capable of enforcing the constitutional and other laws that govern our electoral process.

   Unfortunately not understanding his mandate, our chairman of GECOM felt it necessary to tell Sir Paul that and I quote him " GECOM has a very important role in contributing towards sustainable democracy" [no problem here, Doc] but he then goes on to tell the goodly gentleman that sections of the media have been accused of quote "being conduits of malice and agitators of discontent" he then tells Sir Paul that and I quote him again "one recognizes the perpetual arguments between unbridled freedom for the media to operate and accusations of media muzzling. But it should be preferred at this time in our history and development, to consider advocating appropriate restriction so that anarchical tendencies could be nipped in the bud" is Dr. Surujbally serious? The only bud that needs nipping here, is his.

   This man was appointed to ensure that we have free, fair and democratic elections in this country and he is telling the Commonwealth Secretary General through Sir Paul that he will preside over free, fair and democratic elections but we should make arrangements to muzzle the media and remove their democratic right to freedom of speech?

    Incredibly he does not stop here he goes on to tell Sir Paul that and I quote him "Sir Paul should look at the major players in the political scenario with the view to understanding historical and current structures of their respective parties and to suggest to them, to void themselves from intransigent and hate filled elements, in other words we are suggesting that you advise the leading politicos to concentrate on cultivating doves instead of hawks" ladies and gentlemen I have been condemning the current crime situation in this country as vehemently as any of you but what does all of this have to do with Surujbally? Surely he must understand that it is not appropriate for the chairman of Gecom to be uttering such interventionist nonsense.

    After seeing all of this and the furor it caused in the media between him and Jerome Khan, a central executive member of the PNC, I decided to look at a viewpoint by Surujbally aired on 5th September 2002.

    First of all I question the propriety of the chairman of GECOM doing a personal viewpoint and trying to justify it as his personal opinion and not his public one.

    Dr. Surujbally is a veterinarian who was trained on the wrong side of the iron curtain whilst it was still standing, so let me give him some advise, if I understand the situation properly, judges, for example do not discuss their personal feelings or the decisions they make in the pursuance of their legal obligations, there are no written laws which prevent them from doing so ladies and gentlemen, even if criticized publicly a judge will not respond, because they are restrained from doing so by time honored tradition, convention and custom.

 As the chairman of GECOM Dr Surujbally it is my opinion that you are no longer entitled to any personal viewpoints, anything you say will be perceived as personal bias and will inevitably consciously or subconsciously interfere with your stated mandate of running a FAIR and democratic Election Commission, since to all intents and purposes you are in fact judging the conduct and outcome of those elections, becoming embroiled in a public controversy with an executive member of the PNC is completely unacceptable, you must therefore decide whether you will allow yourself to be bound by these democratic customs, traditions and conventions, if you will not, then I respectfully submit that you have been badly chosen, and should return to being a vet and go back to your Cassandra crossing. Then you, like me, can cuss up whoever you want publicly.

  Trying to rationalize it, by telling us that whilst you personally do not like pit bulls you would treat one as a professional vet, is hardly a legitimate explanation, that is a private matter both not liking pit bulls and treating them, but you are now a public figure and you must start the necessary research to determine what you should and should not do, to assure the public that you are impartial and are capable of conducting democratic and fair elections in this country.

   Lord Lester of Hern Hill in his submission on Guyana human rights matters in 1996 and Nagamootoo's draft broadcasting bill, which he condemned as being undemocratic had the following to say "freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, subject to the prescribed exceptions in the covenant, it is applicable not only to information and ideas that are favorably received, or regarded as inoffensive but also to those that offend, shock and disturb, such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society" the exceptions, are regulations that guard against anyone saying anything in the media that will compromise national security, public health, public order or morals.

    The Advisory Committee on Broadcasting has been set up and are monitoring the broadcast landscape and are advising the PM on who are, and who are not, conforming to these criteria, not you Dr. Surujbally, it is outside of your mandate and your understanding of it, is, shockingly shallow.

    Finally ladies and gentlemen Dr Surujbally has accepted public office in this country without understanding a fundamental fact and I will quote the goodly lord again for his benefit, "freedom of the press affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of ideas and attitudes of their political leaders. In particular it gives politicians the opportunity to reflect and comment on the preoccupations of public opinion, it thus enables everyone to participate in the free political debate which is at the core, of the very concept, of a democratic society. The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider with regard to a politician acting in his public capacity than in relation to a private individual. A politician inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalist and the public at large, and he must display a greater tolerance" As a public figure Dr. Surujbally this concept holds good for the chairman of the elections commission, you will be criticized by members of the public, but the response to those criticisms must be released from GECOM after consulting the other members and not from you personally.