GECOM and its interesting numbers (updated)

The Elections body Guyana Elections Commission has announced that the number of eligible voters on the Preliminary List of Electors (PLE) for the upcoming May 11, 2015 elections stands at 567,125. As a percentage of the 2012 census population of 747,884, the number of persons eligible to vote and therefore age 18 and over is 75.83% suggesting that those under age 18 represents 24.17%. Since the November 2011 elections the number of persons on the preliminary voters list has increased by over 75,000 persons or by 15.3%.

The current PLE as a percentage of votes cast in 2011 is some 164%. These numbers are worrying when measured against comparable benchmarks or against any local indicator.

Guyana is categorised for purposes of the UN publication, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision under “Other Less Developed Countries”. Among that group across the world – including the rich countries with an aging population – the percentage of the population under age 15 is 26%. Specifically, the publication estimates Guyana as having a population under age 15 of 36%.

Cousins in the region
And if we look at individual country statistics and come closer to home to a country with similar demographics – Trinidad and Tobago – the percentage of the population under age 15 is 25%, while for Jamaica the comparable percentage is 24%. With demographics more akin to the more developed countries Barbados’ population under age 15 is 19.7%.

And for the twin island republic of T&T, the percentage of the population under the age of 19 is 36%.
In a country where any set of statistics is viewed with suspicion and where the danger of controversy over elections is ever present, one of GECOM’s critical functions should be to produce a list of electors that is free from significant errors of omission or commission. The dangers of the failure to do so are obvious. At best a bloated list renders statistical comparisons misleading and meaningless and worst a list that includes tens of thousands of names that ought not to be there can be exploited for improper purposes. We need neither of these.

GECOM is a full-time body (the Commissioners other than the Chairman are part-time) with considerable financial and other resources at its disposal. Between 2006 and 2014 when the country has had only two general elections and no local government elections, GECOM was voted a total of $17,700 million dollars out of the Consolidated Fund, inclusive of $3,362 million in 2014. Those are staggering numbers.

The increase in expenditure on GECOM in the years between elections has been steep and rapid. GECOM’s cumulative expenditure from 1993 to 1997, an election year, seems a paltry sum of $212 million. For 1998 to 2001 when Guyana next went to the polls the expenditure had risen to a staggering $1,938 million; between 2002 and 2006 inclusive the figure increased to $4,392 million and for 2007 to 2011 it was $8,580 million.

The disaggregated numbers are no less helpful and are even more troubling. Employment costs climbed from $3.3 million in 1997 to $78.2 million in 2001 and then to a whopping $364 million in 2006, $485 million in 2011 and in 2013 the cost had gone up to $583 million. The number of persons employed – all full-time – has moved from 22 in 1997, 106 in 2001, 228 in 2006, 311 in 2011 to 337 in 2014. The Estimates show that all the employees are full-time, but include contract employees.

The pattern of Other costs has also trended upwards but the trend line is jagged when the years between elections are considered. Other costs, i.e. other than employment and capital cost were $141 million in 1997, $936 million in 2001, $2,056 million in 2006 and $2,094 million in 2011.

Another useful analysis would have been to separate the cost of the administration of the Commission from Elections Administration. Unfortunately, such breakdown as exists is only in relation to the budgeted costs and not actual costs. Yet, it is useful to note that the 2014 Estimates show that of GECOM’s 2014 budget of $3,362 million, $1,766 million or 53% was to finance administration of the Commission and $1,596 million or 47% towards elections.

For 1997, 2001 and 2006 over 50% of the costs were spent in the elections year but for the 2011 elections, this was only 32%.

Cost of democracy?
And it is not that the number of voters has increased. In fact as the table below shows the votes cast have declined over the years while the cost per vote has increased from $520 in 1997 to $24,746 in 2011. That is not a luxury Guyana can afford.


Prorogation and dissolution mean that even as we move to elections in May of this year, it is not possible to say whether there will be any reduction in expenditure or equivalent cost per vote. Aggregate expenditure in the years 2012 to 2014 (budget) was $6,199 million but with no National Assembly and no national budget until later this year only the keeper of the purse knows what the final likely cost will be.

GECOM has to do much more to ensure that the Voters List is continuously substantially correct, to enforce the existing laws, to make recommendations for changes to those laws, and urgently, to improve its own efficiency. The National Assembly has not helped by its apparent generosity and its failure to pay sufficient attention to the annual allocations to GECOM. This encourages a culture of extravagance which only an efficiency audit may be able to stem.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later, Guyanese will enjoy their constitutional right to local government elections. It will be interesting to see the cost at which GECOM will deliver these.

Once the May 11, 2015 elections are out of the way, the country must address the much needed changes recommended for GECOM since 1992. Elections must not only be free and fair, they must also be efficient and certainly not be prohibitively expensive. Some years ago when I wrote about GECOM’s cost, my attention was drawn to a comparative examination that placed Guyana fourth in the world in the ranking of cost of elections in terms of votes cast. I would be quite happy if we fall to forty and below.

Meanwhile, eight months after completing the preliminary report on the Guyana Population and Housing Census 2012, the Bureau of Statistics is yet to publish the final report, making it the only country in the Caribbean, and no more than a handful around the world, still to do so.

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