National Assembly passes amendments to ROPA

 to promote fair, transparent elections

Recognising the disastrous events immediately following the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections, the PPP/C administration has championed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (ROPA).

These amendments are to prevent further abuse of the electoral system and promote transparency.

In presenting the bill for its second reading to the National Assembly on Monday, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall, S.C., said the bill is an important piece of legislation, as it seeks to prevent a recurrence of the flagrant efforts made by the opposition to thwart the democratic rights of the electorate.

“It seeks to enhance, modernise and reform the democratic quality and architecture of our country and to make our electoral machinery and the registration process and the compilation of the list of electors more transparent, more accountable and more effective. The 2020 elections brought to light the way that the legislation in its current form can be subjected to abuse,” he said.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, SC, during his presentation in the National Assembly

Further, the minister stated that the bill attempts to examine, organise and compile the various scattered pieces of electoral legislation, allotting them to their respective places in either the ROPA or the National Registration Act. 

“Even without amendments, this exercise has been great for our law revision process in that it has now, for the first time after approximately three decades, assembled all of our electoral laws, registration laws and related laws, and are now putting them into their respective homes so that they can be easily and conveniently accessed.”

He also noted that the bill has undergone a series of consultations incorporate contributions from over 100 stakeholders.

The attorney general emphasized the importance of having a sufficient number of polling stations to accommodate the electorate, and noted that the amendment addresses this.

Section (6) of the principle act is amended to impose that every village or locality has an adequate number of polling places to accommodate the electors. 

Additionally, a new section 6A is inserted that divides the polling districts Region No.3, Region No.4 and Region No. 6 into sub-districts, each acting independently and distinguished by the names. 

Region No. 3 will be divided into the Essequibo Islands and River, St. Lawrence to Cornelia Ida, and the Hague to Arabio Creek sub-districts. 

Region No. 4 will be separated into four units, namely East Bank Demerara, North Georgetown, South Georgetown, and East Coast Demerara. Further, Region No. 6 will be diverged into three polling sub-districts: East Bank Berbice to Canje, Upper Corentyne and Lower Corentyne. 

The act also requires that the Statements of poll (SOPs), among other certified forms, be distributed to the Chief Election Officer, and the Chairman of the Commission. Additionally, it provides for the returning officer to post an electronic copy of the SOP on the Commission’s website to be publicly viewed. Strict fines and penalties are attached for breach of these principles in the amended bill. 

Moreover, the legal affairs minister reminded that, upon assuming office in 2020, the PPP/C Government made several commitments that are well underway, including electoral reform.

The attorney general highlighted, “We promised that the investigative arm of the state will be activated, and criminal charges will be instituted if there is evidence to support these charges. We also promised that the commission of inquiry will be launched under the hand of the president.”

No Select Committee

Lending his voice in support of the bill, Natural Resources Minister, Vickram Bharrat noted that the opposition’s demand for the bill to be placed into a special select committee is simply a ploy to delay the process. 

He said, “Every single amendment is to ensure that there is transparency, and free, fair elections. These changes are being made to safeguard the rights of every single Guyanese regardless of which political party is in power. These amendments are a representation of good Governance and true democracy and the will of the people. As a government we will continue to made amendments to strengthen every process, including the electoral process.”

Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat during his presentation on the ROPA in the National Assembly

Also offering her contribution in support of the bill, Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister, Gail Teixeira, highlighted the level of transparency involved in the consultation process for the bill.

She pointed out that it is driven by a duty to provide Guyanese with a fair and coherent electoral process, and to prevent a repeat of the abuse suffered at the hands of the opposition during the 2020 elections debacle.

She impressed, “These amendments are crucial components of transparency, and accountability for the Guyanese people, and to give our people assurances that their votes count and that they will not experience what happened in 2020 again. We owe that to the Guyanese people.”

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira during her presentation in the National Assembly

The bill was passed by the National Assembly after it as considered clause by clause in the Committee of Supply with the APNU+AFC opposition participating in the debate, then walking out of the House before the voting took place.

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