(By Nazima Raghubir) Months after general elections in Guyana, the reports of several regional and international observer groups are well on their way to gathering dust. This is nothing new, in fact, both government and opposition are known for selectively using issues highlighted in many of these reports for sheer politicking. Contributor and well known letter writer Earl John in a letter to the media following the elections pointed out that “there is little or no evidence to show that the parties, agencies and stakeholders concerned have arranged any focused reviewed of the recommendations by many of the observer missions.” John pointed out that some of these reports date back to 2006.
These reports on various elections date back to 1992 when the Carter Centre observed those historic elections.
But what are the issues identified in these reports? Should they even concern us? The issues are myriad. They range from the campaign financing to management of the elections. Significantly, these are all issues that speak to the crux of good governance. The observer reports’ over the years resemble each other in content mainly because many of the issues they have raised, again and again, remain largely unaddressed.
The parties that currently make up the APNU/AFC coalition government, while in Opposition highlighted “the uneven play field” during several elections campaigns over the years. These included the abuse of state assets during campaigning and the use of the state television and radio to advocate on half of the party in power. These were all situations which gave the People’s Progressive Party/Civic an edge over the other political parties during campaigning periods.
In the lead up to the May elections, observer missions descended on Guyana. Among them were the Commonwealth Observer Mission, Carter Centre led by Former President Jimmy Carter, the Organisation of American States, Caricom and our very own the Electoral Assistance Bureau. The latter is yet to produce its report on the May elections and we were in fact told that a draft is still with its board.
But how useful are these reports ?
The presumably fair eyes of the observers are expected to capture issues that many of us are too busy to focus on. However, this is not for mere report writing. In fact, many of these reports are expected to craft policies for the future holding of free and fair polls.
The reality is less impressive. The reports, as aforementioned, are rarely acted upon. For many years, the former People’s Progressive Party/Civic government avoided acknowledging their recommendations, much less attempting to address them. Of course, the PPP/C government did invite many of these groups to observe the election process. But, then, to what end?
One of the major issues that the observer missions were united on was the need for campaign financing laws. This has been a major feature of almost every observer missions’ report since 2001.
Insight had previously examined the subject in one of earlier editions identifying one major attempt to address campaign financing laws: a parliamentary motion done by the late politician and MP Sheila Holder in 2009.
The Carter Centre in its last report was quick to point out the need to enforce campaign financing regulations identifying the “major advantage of resources available to the incumbent party”.
But these regulations, if enforced, have no real value to political campaigns. Political parties already do not feel the need to share this information, most if not all have been tight lipped on the sums they spent on 2015 elections campaigning and even if the laws as is, are enforced it would mean little or nothing to those seeking political power.
The Carter Centre 2015 report points out, “there are no rules on party and campaign finance beyond ceilings for elections expenditure that declarations of electoral expenses must be submitted to GECOM after elections. The law limits spending by a candidate to $25,000 (US$120) and by parties to an additional $50,000 (US$240) per candidate.” These sums are unrealistically low compared to actual spending on the campaign.
The Carter Centre observer saw the same things we did: the billboards, flags, television ads, the massive set up for the political rallies across the country, all which came with a cost. The Carter centre in its report observed “while both of the main parties seemed able to command significant resources for their campaigns, there appeared to be a very weak distinction between the sources of the party and the state”.
Like some of the previous recommendations we have seen, there has been a renewed call for laws that address the heart of campaign financing. These laws would force politicians to “name their donors” and not only during an election period, to enact laws that see parties “establishing party finance regulations for reporting; requiring electoral contestants to make on their campaign expenditures publicly available with strong penalties for those who do not comply with regulations” and also called for stronger laws that places “realistic limits on campaign expenditures”.
When this would all come to fruition is anyone’s guess.