GECOM Chair should be more assertive, vigilant – Jagdeo
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo believes that Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), ret’d Justice Claudette Singh has to be more assertive and vigilant when it comes to affairs of the body.
“If you ask me if she should be a bit more affirmative and strong, I’ll say yes,” Jagdeo told reporters at his weekly press conference on Thursday where he lamented on issues at the Elections Commission and the lack of assertiveness on the part of the Chair.
According to the Opposition Leader, there is a heightened sense of worry among Guyanese about rigged elections, given Guyana’s history and the fact that several of the key players of the past under the People’s National Congress (PNC) Government now hold prominent positions in the current APNU/AFC coalition Administration.
To this end, Jagdeo contended that the GECOM Chair has to play a more assertive role in quelling these concerns.“I think the Chairperson of the Commission, who came into office with enormous goodwill on the part of all Guyanese, has a special role to play in ensuring that Guyanese are not in this state of disquiet and she needs to allay their concerns about: one, about there being a process in GECOM itself that could lead to their disenfranchisement; two, about concerns about rigged elections and actions that could lead to an elections petition,” he stated.
Jagdeo stressed that these assurances have to come from the Chair herself, either through regular press statements issued by her or through regular press conferences, as Guyana moves closer to the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.
He highlighted the fact that at the end of every weekly statutory meeting, the GECOM Commissioners are the ones updating the Guyanese public on happenings at GECOM and there are serious concerns about the confusion that initiates. That said, he stressed that the sole source of “credible information” has to be the GECOM Chairperson.
The Government-nominated GECOM Commissioners have been pushing to have some 28,000 Guyanese voters removed from the voters’ list once it is compiled, on the ground that they were registered as voters in 2008 but have not uplifted their national identification (ID) cards since then.
However, the Opposition Leader pointed to the fact that it was the current GECOM Chair who ruled that the requirement for voters to have a voter ID card in 1997 was ultra vires Articles 59 and 159 of the Constitution (despite a parliamentary agreement to use the cards) when Esther Pereira, a PNC supporter, petitioned the High Court to set aside the results of the 1997 elections. More recently, he added, Chief Justice Roxane George ruled that removing persons from the voters’ list, using capricious reasoning, is illegal.
“As soon as this proposal came up, she should have shut it down, because it is illegal based on her own ruling, as well as the recent ruling from the Chief Justice…still it is a matter for discussion and continued to gain currency in the media,” Jagdeo said.
The second proposal, pushed by the Government-nominated GECOM Commissioners, is to highlight the names of eligible Guyanese voters who did not participate in the now-scrapped House-to-House Registration on the Official List of Electors (OLE).
According to the Opposition Leader, “It should have been shut down immediately and not given oxygen – creating worrying that voters could be subjected to the caprices of Presiding Officers come Election Day…this is illegal and discriminatory.”
He went on to point out that it was GECOM that scrapped the House-to-House Registration – preventing all Guyanese from registering – and therefore it cannot now force Guyanese voters who did not participate in the House-to-House Registration to be singled out for ‘special’ treatment.
Furthermore, Jagdeo spoke about comments made by Government Commissioner Charles Corbin, who told reporters after Tuesday’s statutory meeting that there was a decision to publish the list of over 300,000 persons registered during the now-scrapped House-to-House Registration on Thursday’s date.
“First off there was no such decision…this is another hurdle to cross….we are not even clear on what they are going to publish,” he contended.
It must be explained, the Opposition Leader outlined, how this publication – a list of 300,000-plus, additional names to the Preliminary List of Electors – will be situated within Guyana’s legal architecture. He argued that the only known statutory process to conduct Claims and Objections is through the publication of a Preliminary List of Electors (PLE). He further explained that the list of 300,000-plus from House-to-House Registration cannot be considered a supplementary PLE since there will be duplications – that is persons who are on the PLE will also be on the list of 300,000-plus since many persons re-registered during House-to-House Registration.
The Opposition Leader underscored the absence of clarity from the GECOM Chairperson as to how the 300,000-plus registrations will be treated. He also noted that the gathered data was unscrutinised, unverified and was only partially gathered.
That said, he stated that the question of merging unverified data from the scrapped House-to-House Registration with the National Register of Registrants Database is still a matter of concern.
According to Jagdeo, there are also questions as to whether or not this is even possible and how it can be done without compromising the law, without compromising people’s rights, and without impacting on the integrity of the voters’ list.
“If the database is contaminated it will have implications for the timeline of elections….what we are fighting against is inclusion of unverified data before it gets on the Official List of Electors,” Jagdeo said.
The Opposition Leader made clear that these issues should not be matters that are allowed to confuse the Guyanese people. He stressed that “Without decisions from the GECOM Chairperson, what we will continue to have distortions…GECOM has an obligation to keep Guyanese informed”.
In addition to ensuring that confusion is not the order of the day, Jagdeo stressed that there are also other areas where the GECOM Chairperson must act decisively and be assertive.
These include a decision on having an international presence within the GECOM Secretariat to ensure that the voters’ list is not compromised and to ensure that no Guyanese voter is compromised, among other things. He said, “At the end of the day, she is overall in charge [of GECOM] and I thought by now, she would want to have second opinions, more people looking out to see if everything is done properly if they want free and fair elections”.
The international community has pledged to provide support to GECOM in carrying out its mandate. This was communicated in a joint statement that featured British High Commissioner Gregory Quinn, United States (US) Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch and Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Guyana, Fernando Ponz Canto.
Jagdeo also underscored the need for a decision on an engagement with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in terms of oversight of GECOM’s Information Technology (IT) department.
He said, “Critical going forward is oversight over IT too and the early acceptance and installation of international oversight mechanism. Why we have had these delays on simple decisions so far, I can’t explain. It defies logic that if you want free and fair elections and you want them to be helpful in the discharge of your duties, you should embrace all international support readily…there should be a sense of urgency to get people here now particularly in the IT section, because that’s where the preliminary list and all the other lists are being generated and, therefore, you need oversight now and in this period. I suspect they’re trying to delay oversight until the OLE (Official List of Electors) is created, which could have flaws. But even then, we will ask for an international testing of the list.”
The Opposition Leader stressed that the GECOM Chairperson “has an obligation to act” to ensure free and fair elections. “We are constantly watching out for any attempt to tamper with the voters’ list and the elections results,” he assured, adding that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) is working assiduously with Guyana’s international partners to make sure this does not happen.
When pressed by the media on his confidence in the GECOM Chairperson and whether he made a wrong decision in nominating her for the post, Jagdeo made clear that her integrity is not in question.