GECOM must adopt transparent process for removal of dead persons’ names from Voters’ List – Govt
In light of concerns over the bloated Voters’ List, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government is looking to put in place laws that would allow the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to transparently remove the names of dead persons from the list.
This is according to Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo during a press conference on Friday. He said Government wants the law to be very explicit as it relates to the removal of dead persons – something which GECOM has the constitutional right to do.
In fact, the Vice President proposed a methodology that would see these changes to the list being done on a large scale starting with the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) obtaining a list of all the dead people for every year as well as historically. These names, he noted, must be shared publicly before they are removed from the Voters’ List.
“We want to make the process transparent. So, GECOM should do that on a large scale but by law, they must share the list with all the political parties and publicise the list of dead people in the newspapers. We want to put that into the law. So, every time they remove dead people, they must share this with all the parties in Guyana and publish it in the newspapers not just do it in GECOM on their own,” Jagdeo stated.
Back in August 2019, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George had ruled that GECOM cannot deregister persons from the National Register of Registrants (NRR) – from which the Voters’ List is compiled – unless they are dead or otherwise disqualified under Article 159 (2), (3) and (4) of the Constitution.
Proposed changes to RoPA
Meanwhile, in an effort to prevent the recurrence of the historic March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections that resulted in a five-month political impasse caused by blatant rigging attempts, the PPP/C Government last November released a host of proposed changes to Representation of the People Act (RoPA) for public consultation before the document is finalised and taken to the National Assembly.
It had indicated that it wanted to have the widest possible engagement with stakeholders including the various political parties on the proposed amendments to RoPA.
But according to VP Jagdeo, in the more than three months that the draft Bill has been out, majority of the comments and feedback came from GECOM itself and a group called Electoral Reform Group.
“So, I’ve asked Minister [of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs Gail] Teixeira and [Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil] Nandlall, and a team, to meet with both groups formally on the legislation. We’ve gone through all of the other comments that we’ve received. The final draft will be ready once they’ve completed that, and we’ll table it in the Parliament,” Jagdeo said on Friday.
The Vice President pointed out that the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition has been making public statements about electoral reforms but did not use the opportunity during those three months to submit their feedback on the proposed changes.
“But they chose not to. We hope in Parliament, they will participate [when the RoPA amendments are tabled],” he posited.
An overhaul of the country’s electoral laws can see the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) at the Elections Commission facing as much as life imprisonment for committing fraud, while others can similarly face hefty fines and jail time for any related offence.
The draft updated electoral laws also outline a clear process for the request of a recount, including empowering the Chairman of GECOM to grant that request.
Under the proposed laws, the CEO must immediately post the District Tabulation Forms on the Commission’s website as soon as he receives them from the Returning Officers.
Other persons involved in the electoral process can face fines as high as $10 million, and can equally be jailed for life if they breach any provision as outlined in the proposed updated Act.
The immediate former CEO of GECOM, Keith Lowenfield; his Deputy Roxanne Myers, and the Returning Officer for Region Four at the last polls, Clairmont Mingo, were terminated last August for their role in efforts to derail democracy at the 2020 elections. The trio is also currently before the court on a raft of electoral fraud-related charges.
While the firing of these three senior officials and a general overhaul at the Elections Secretariat were met with much satisfaction by stakeholders, it is widely agreed that much more needs to be done to restore public confidence in GECOM especially as it gears up to hold Local Government Elections (LGE) later this year.