THE POSITIONS taken by the PNM and the UNC on a matter as vital as international observers for the general election are cause for alarm.
“We’re no banana republic,” the Prime Minister said on Friday as he expressed doubt on the arrival of some missions. “We conduct ourselves.”
Yet we seem hell-bent on proving otherwise.
Not only has the State left this vital matter to the last minute, but Dr Rowley has also advanced an unconvincing reason why missions from abroad cannot be brought in. The cost of quarantine, he said, would have to be paid by the Government, and this could compromise the impartial position of observers.
The PM’s sensitivity to how this might look is laudable. But it ignores several distinguishing features of the work of observers.
Firstly, such missions are always at the behest of the host nation to an extent: they cannot enter without some basic authorisation from a country.
In fact, there is a process of accreditation which facilitates their movement, as was the case in Guyana recently, when the administration of President David Granger threatened to revoke such accreditation in March. This led to a rebuke from the head of the Commonwealth observer mission, former Barbados prime minister Owen Arthur (now deceased).
Secondly, observers are like judges. They hear all sides and are trained to be impartial, no matter who is footing the bill.
Of more concern in the PM’s mind, perhaps, was the potential for the UNC to make political mileage out of special funding.
Indeed, UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s move on Sunday – in citing an out-of-date, pre-covid19 Commonwealth guideline – betrayed a failure on her part to acknowledge the matter of special costs during these extraordinary times.
No, instead of politicising this issue, the parties should have come to a consensus long ago. They both have a stake in the integrity of the poll.
It is a source of relief that a Caricom mission has been earmarked for arrival. (Confusingly, a media statement from the Office of the PM on Sunday suggested Caricom, too, cares about cost, yet “might be available.”)
But the more observers the better. Look at their impact in Guyana. Without them, it would have been far easier to sweep irregularities under the carpet.
Is this country not a member of the Organisation of American States? Do we not have good relations with the European Union? Is the Carter Centre unknown to us?
Did no one consider the need for dialogue before Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s letter to the PM? Covid19 did not appear yesterday.
All of this demonstrates why, if we are truly to avoid banana republic status, we need transparent election processes, including fixed election dates, which would help avoid situations precisely such as the current one.