Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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GECOM 2006
(Aired 27 March 2006)

    The permanent Guyana Elections Commission was established by the constitutional reform process just after the 2001 elections; our first choice of a permanent Elections Commission chairman was Dr. Steve Surujbally, a veterinarian trained in Eastern Europe. So my impression was that since Surujbally would have spent a substantial part of this life in countries where there is no democracy or free elections this may have been a mistake.

   The elections commission Chairman gets a salary and conditions which are better than any judge in the Supreme Court, since he is expected to be presiding over free and fair democratic elections in this country and as such he must be totally impartial, Just as any proper Judge should be, and so it was with some concern that I saw in September 2002 that Surujbally was writing articles in the newspaper and having open confrontations with Jerome Khan, an executive member of the PNC.

     I was then forced to remind Surujbally that as the Chairman of the Elections Commission he was in effect a judge, bound by time honoured traditions, conventions and customs and that he must behave accordingly, since if he did not do so, he would bring his reputation and impartiality into question, so these open confrontations with the PNC in the media was completely out of place. In that commentary I also commented on Suyrujbally's eastern European concept of free speech; and I will now quote from my commentary first aired in September 2002.

       "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 there, 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. End quote.

   Surujbally has been Chairman of the elections commission for nearly 5 years, during that time the elections commission has nothing to show in terms of its functional achievement, there has been no on going registration, there has been no updating of The electoral lists, there has been no new significant registrations, not one neighborhood Council election was held, not one regional election was held, not one municipal election was held but from 2002 to now the election commission spent the following amounts; in 2002 they were allocated  691 million they spent 172 million, in 2003 they spent 202 million in 2004 they spent 226 million in 2005 they spent 857 million; that is a total of 1.4 billion Guyana dollars over the past 4 years and they produced noting! I want to tell Surujbally that all of these lapses renders him in breach of the oath he took as elections commissioner, and I don't much care to hear excuses, you Surujbally swore to perform your constitutional function without fear of favor and if you were not being given the tools to do the job, it was your responsibility to have raised a huge furor in the media. I am therefore holding you, personally, responsible for this mess.

    Also ladies and gentlemen the only time I heard from this election Commission chairman was when he brought teams of people here form all over the world to tell us what naughty boys, we the media operatives in Guyana were, and how we should behave in a democracy during an election, but not once did our claims that the state owned media were being used exclusively as a propaganda machine by the ruling party openly condemned by Surujbally, notwithstanding that the Tim Neal and the elections Commission Chairman from Africa said that it was a gross inequity unheard of anywhere else!

    You see ladies and gentlemen only we in the media were irresponsible and purveyors of unrest, not the ruling party and their stranglehold on the state owned media, the betrayals in the dialog, the constitutional reform process and the communiqué, those betrayals in Surujbally's opinion were not contributing to the unrest and discontent in Guyana, only the media who were pointing out these inequities were. We were supposed to stay silent and let the PPP walk all over the opposition, the media and the constitution, that's Surujbally's interpretation of fair play.

    All of this told me that he was not impartial but that he wanted peaceful elections despite the inequities that existed and had no intention of righting them by telling Sir Paul Reeves what the situation really was and I became convinced that we were probably not going to get a fair election with out a fight.

   As a direct result of his not performing his duty to ensure that the election commission, including the other commissioners, perform their/its function in the interest of this nation,  we are all now left in total confusion, we don't know if we have a list that can take us to an election, we do not know what the actual situation is with verification, we do not know what the situation is with the biometrics, all we are seeing is more confusion with the three newspapers telling us totally different things as usual, the Chronicle tells us that elections before august 4th is likely, Stabroek news tells us that elections before August 4th is not likely and the Kaiteur elections before August 4th is impossible! The PPP who are as unpopular as they can possibly be at this time, want elections now, why is that? Not being a very trusting person I want to know what they have in mind. We had enough electoral rigging in this country.