Local Gov’t Elections: Most boundary changes reflect pre-2018 demarcations

Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George will Wednesday deliver a crucial ruling which, on the one hand, can give the go ahead for Local Government Elections to proceed on June 12, or on the other hand, further stall the long overdue elections.

She will be deciding on the legality of a number of boundary changes, that in effect, allows for the addition of over a dozen constituencies and more councillors which will provide for greater representation and better management of communities.

The main political opposition – A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) – through its Chief Scrutineer, Carol Joseph, had moved to the High Court challenging the boundary changes that were done by the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Nigel Dharamlall and later ratified by the Guyana Elections Commission as is prescribed by law.

Joseph, along with GECOM Commissioner, Vincent Alexander who filed an affidavit in support of her application, claimed the changes would give the governing People’s Progressive Party Civic an unfair advantage at the polls.

But several prominent politicians have questioned how could this be when several new boundaries were created by the former APNU+AFC administration during the 2018 Local Government Elections.

Noting previously that the 2023 changes would allow for a more democratic local governance, Dharamlall said his changes were to reverse the 2018 changes to what was obtained in 2016.

The same boundaries used in the 2016 elections were the boundaries in place since the 1990s and only changed in 2018 by the APNU+AFC.

So why an objection to what is largely a reversal? The Court decides on Wednesday.

During the 2018 LGEs, the APNU+AFC coalition created new NDCs as well as collapsed and merged some NDCs which the PPP/C had protested at the time was for political reasons.

Fourteen areas were affected in 2018.

No boundaries were reduced in 2023 but in some areas, the boundaries were extended.

In Region One (Barima-Waini), the boundaries of the Mabaruma township were expanded to include the village of Wauna.

In the Pomeroon River, the Kitty/Providence NDC and Moruka/Pheonix NDC will be merged into one due to the small population size.

In Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara), the Toevlugt/Patentia was extended to the village of Free and Easy to capture a few hundred more residents.

In Region Four (Demerara – Mahaica), the 2016 boundaries will be reverted to.

In Region Five (Mahaica – Berbice), the Woodlands/Farm NDC was extended to include areas in the DeHoop Access Road including No. 10 Mahaica, Little Biaboo, Big Biaboo.

In Region Six (East Berbice – Corentyne), the No. 52/No. 74 NDC will be split into two NDCs – No. 52/No. 63 and No. 64/No. 74 to allow for better management and greater representation for the large catchment area.

The local government organs in Regions Eight (Potaro – Siparuni), Nine (Upper Takutu – Upper Esequibo), 10 (Upper Demerara – Berbice) and Georgetown will remain the same.

In 2018, there were 1,192 councillors in 596 constituencies; this will be increased to 1,220 councillors in 610 constituencies in 2023.

The CJ noted on Tuesday that she was not inclined to accept arguments that the new demarcations have created an unfair advantage for the governing party.

And Kurt DaSilva, attorney for GECOM, pointed out that the electoral body carried out its duties in keeping with the law and did nothing to increase or reduce chances for any political party.

“Whether it turns out a party is more successful, that cannot be a consideration of GECOM,” he added.

Article 72 of the Constitution provides for the division of Guyana into sub-divisions as is necessary for the purpose of organising local democratic organs.

In doing the division, consideration must be given to, among other things, the population, the physical size and geographic characteristics, and economic resources.

The Constitution also sets out that divisions should be provided for where there is the need for such and where the people request their establishment.

The ruling on Wednesday is expected at noon and the Chief Justice has made it clear that the Court’s consideration is on any unlawful act.