On February 6th and 7th
2006 I was invited to attend a workshop entitled "Media Ethics Coverage of Election
Issues" held at the Georgetown Club.
I had more or less decided to send Nills
Campbell Editor in Chief of The Evening News, since I was working on something
else at the time and could not possibly spare two full days for this seminar.
Now for some strange reason people
from USAID Guyana Democratic Consolidation and Conflict Resolution [GDCCR]
project, actually called me on Friday 3rd February and begged me to
make a special effort to attend. Now I am not saying that this was some sort of
compliment, it could very well be that they thought my commentaries too
provocative and perhaps wanted to influence me to tone them down, or it could
have been that they thought that I had some influence with you the public, and
wanted me to use that influence to help them conduct a peaceful and meaningful
election since whatever else I may do I will not lie to you.
Whatever the reason I am happy I went,
since I had the pleasure of hearing one Dr. Jeff Cumberbatch speaking about our
Representation of the People's Act.
Before I get to the interesting points
raised by Dr. Cumberbatch I want to tell you that anyone who is anyone in the
media have signed on to a code of conduct governing our behaviour during the
upcoming elections, but to date none of the political parties have signed a similar
code as they are requested to do, just as we were.
Ladies and Gentlemen I want it to be
clearly understood that I signed this code on two conditions firstly that
I would be satisfied that those who will be appointed to monitor and pronounce
on our transgressions are impartial people, the method of their selection must
guarantee that; since merely stating that a person is impartial does not make
them so, I repeat they must be appointed in a manner that guarantees it. Secondly
If the political Parties contesting this election do not sign a similar
code then I will not be honouring the one I signed which is supposed to be
"conducive to peaceful elections"
For example, I would accept nominees who
are approved by a 2/3 vote of the people in parliament to be media monitors.
Now a code is not the law, we signed it
as responsible media workers and we promised to abide by it, but it is not the
Now we come back to Dr Cumberbatch and
what is the law. Cumberbatch is a lecturer in law at some law school in
the Caribbean probably Hugh Wooding or the University of Barbados at least he
is teaching Law in a place where the law actually exists and is practiced, not
like here. And I want to congratulate and thank the UG/USAID for bringing this
man here to tell us that in out laws there exist statutes that if properly examined
would lead one to the inexorable conclusion that we have not had a legitimate
election in this country in a long, long time!
The specific act setting out the
behaviour of the political parties during an election is called the Representation
of the People's Act, it would be impossible in this commentary to look at all
of the areas of the act so I am going to concentrate on articles part XIII 115-127
election Expenses, part XIV 128 to 133 Illegal Payment, Employment, Hiring,
part XV Illegal practices and Part XVI Corrupt Practices!
It would not be possible to go through
all of these laws this act sets forth and these are current laws modified as
recently as 30 of 1990 and 15 of 2000 so they are not old obsolete laws they
are in force now!
Articles 115 to 116 makes it clear that
every political figure/s Parties contesting an election should appoint an
election agent who will collect and manage all of the campaign contributions
and that the actual candidates should not be collecting money directly from any
person or persons who want to donate election financing. However the candidate
is not indemnified if the election agent conducts collections in a corrupt
manner. Articles 116 lays out in the clearest possible terms that no candidate
will spend more than G$25,000 on campaign expenses using his personal money unless
he declares it 14 days after the election to his election Agent, if the does
not then he is guilty of a criminal offence. The election agent will also put
someone to pay all expenses concerning postage, stationary, correspondence
telegrams and all monies spent on correspondence in and out of Guyana including electioneering outside of Guyana and all such sums must be declared within 14 days
after the election results are made public.
is particularly interesting and levels the playing field for democracy, I don't
have any doubt in my mind that anyone in this country who is not completely
behind the PPP will never be allowed to share meaningfully in the national pie
[no contracts, no consultancy, no proper jobs in Government, no concessions of
any sort] depriving non PPP supporters of economic power making them incapable
of mobilising themselves to mount any sort of a legitimate challenge to the PPP
in an election. Article 118 lays the basis for levelling the playing field
expense shall be incurred by or on behalf of a group of
and no payment shall be made on their behalf whether
during or after the election, on account of or in respect of the
and management of the election
in excess of the sum of fifty thousand dollars multiplied
the number of candidates not exceeding 53 on the list of
for purposes other than the following
the expenses of printing, advertising, publishing,
and distributing addresses and notices;
the expense of stationery, messages, postages and
the expense of holding public meetings and holding
Guyana meetings open to electors generally;
the expenses of committee rooms, no more than one
room being situated in each district within the meaning
the National Registration Act;
expenses permitted under section 130;
the personal expenses of candidates.
of the People 95 Cap. 1:03
In determining the total expenditure incurred by a group of
no regard shall be had to amounts paid by candidates under
If an election agent incurs or pays election expenses in excess
the sum specified in subsection (1), or for purposes other than those
specified, he shall be guilty of an illegal practice.
If a candidate pays any election expenses except his personal
otherwise than by or through the election agent of his group
candidates or in pursuance of section 123 he shall be guilty of an illegal act!
Dr. Comberbatch is very clear on this issue
this is the law and there may be of course be increases to this capped amount
according to the value of the Guyana dollar in 2000 compared to now so
adjustments are in order, in the last election the PPP spent an alleged 400
million compared to about 60 million that was raised by the PNC and the other
parties. This 400 million was money that if called upon to account from whence
it came, the PPP may not be able to do so therefore according to these laws I
just read for you, not only did they spend hundreds of millions more than they
were supposed to, they cannot account for it, and probably unless corruption in
public office comes into the picture, they cannot account for it. When this
happens democracy dies, since the bigger the budget the better chance you have
of mobilising for an election. I will return to this Representation of the People's
Act next week; since for the establishment of Democracy in this country it is
important. I know that this will turn out to be a 10 minute commentary but we
want change more than 35% of you say so, well to change we have to make the
process transparent, fair and equitable, you have to insist on it with me.