GECOM discarded Carter Center proposal after Appeal Court ruling – Govt Commissioner
Removal of emigrants from voters’ list
…PPP, APNU Commissioners back public scrutiny of statutory meetings
Earlier this year, representatives of the Carter Center had proposed that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) activate measures to cleanse the voters’ list without the need for House-to-House registration and thus, any undue delay in the hosting of General and Regional Elections.
However, during an appearance on Globespan 24×7 live show in New York on Sunday, government-nominated Commissioner at GECOM, Vincent Alexander, revealed that this suggestion was never followed up after Guyana’s Court of Appeal ruled the December 21, 2018 no-confidence motion (NCM) was not validly passed, thus handing the Government a lifeline on its time in office.
But now, with Guyana still waiting for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to confirm or reverse the Appeal Court’s ruling, there is a real possibility that GECOM will be called upon to fast track the holding of elections.
According to Alexander, the National Registration Act Chapter 19:08 provides for the Chief Immigration Officer to submit to the Chief Registration Officer a list of Guyanese who have left the country and have not returned for three months.
“The law further provides for the registration officer, in his deliberate judgement, to take those names off the list. It has never been done. The Commission has never taken the relevant action,” Alexander said.
“I made the proposition that what we could do in the interest of time, was that we could seek to get from the Chief Immigration Officer those lists and we could then apply those lists to the register of registrants and by that way come up with a clean list. The Carter Center said, ‘well rather than do that, what you could do is create a parallel list of persons overseas’.”
According to Alexander, the Center’s recommendation was that the list be placed at the place of poll to prevent substitute voting. But Alexander admitted that even though the suggestion was brought to the Commission, there was no consensus.
The Government-nominated Commissioner further admitted that the number of deceased persons on the voters’ list is a minority, compared to overseas voters. But despite this fact and the Carter Center’s proposition aimed at removing these overseas voters, he said the proposal died a natural death at GECOM.
“That happened the day before the Appeal Court gave its ruling and once the Appeal Court gave its ruling, that issue was never raised again. But I was not averse to the fact that we ought to be able to produce a list as quickly as possible. I was equally concerned about the bloated list,” Alexander posited.
Back in March when the Carter Center made its suggestion, the Georgia, USA-based advocacy, which has a long history of supporting free and fair elections locally, had sent a delegation to Guyana to seek a resolution to election preparation delays. The group met with GECOM Commissioners from both sides of the political divide.
“I think ultimately our role here, of course, is limited. We’re not Guyanese, [but] we care about this country. The Carter Center has been here for many, many years, almost 30 years. This country is important to my grandfather. It’s important to me and my family as well, but ultimately the issues that are being confronted right now (are) going to require the cooperation of political leadership of this country and we are optimistic, and we have had a very productive meeting with GECOM,” Jason Carter, a member of the group and grandson of former US President Jimmy Carter, had said after their meetings.
GECOM has since moved ahead with its House-to-House Registration exercise, which would further delay the holding of elections. This is despite a court challenge filed by a private citizen who contends that the exercise would disenfranchise her and many others. It is a concern the parliamentary Opposition has previously expressed.
To minimise contention in the public domain and in the interest of transparency, Alexander (who was nominated by the coalition A Partnership For National Unity (APNU)) and fellow Commissioner Robeson Benn (nominated by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)) were asked during the live programme whether they were in favour of GECOM’s statutory meetings being open to the public.
Here, the two Commissioners found common ground, with both agreeing to the suggestion. According to Alexander, however, acceptance of this suggestion was entirely up to the Commission. But according to Benn, his previous efforts to bring transparency to these meetings through this measure were thwarted by successive Commissions.
“When [Dr Steve] Surujbally was Chairman, at one of my first interactions I said the meetings of GECOM should be public … that there should be a gallery that the media and the public should be there, so that all that is said and done would be free and open. This was rejected,” the PPP Commissioner stressed.
“I said this more recently at a meeting of the present Commission (headed by retired Justice James Patterson). They don’t want to hear about that, because they don’t want to put the discussions out there and the constitutional requirements of GECOM, to be out there in the public,” Benn contended.