Pursuant to the ruling of the CCJ for a new Chair of GECOM to be appointed through a consensual mechanism supported by both the President and the Leader of the Opposition, Justice Claudette Singh SC, CCH, was so appointed on July 26, and sworn in on July 29. There were two intertwined issues that faced the Commission and needed urgent attention: the CCJ edict that Article 106 (6) of the Constitution required General Elections within three months from June 18th, 2019, and secondly, whether the ongoing controversial house-to-house registration for a new National Register should be halted.
The new Chair met the Government and Opposition Commissioners separately on July 31, and declared they would be meeting on August 15 to decide on a date for elections. The day was chosen because Justice Roxane George would have delivered her decision on a challenge to the legality of the H2H registration on Aug 14. Justice George did in fact rule that “in Guyana a residency requirement for citizens is no longer necessary for qualification as an elector”. While the registration exercise was not unlawful, persons could therefore not be removed from the National Register if they were not found during the exercise.
What this meant in effect was that any OLE produced from a new NRR through the multi-billion-dollar H2H exercise would still have to be vetted by a claims-and-objections (C&O) process. Even if one name were removed, the entire OLE becomes null and void, so the objected-to present “bloated” list would have become even more bloated. H2H registration is thus a non-starter.
The Chief Justice, in her ruling, said that “by stipulating that a person who has already been registered must be at their residence at the time of the house-to-house registration exercise in order to be registered suggests that another qualifying criterion is being added for registration as an elector. A reading of all the relevant provisions leads to the inevitable conclusion that GECOM does not have the discretion to remove the name of a person from the list of registrants or electors because such a person, who was previously registered, has not re-registered during a house-to-house registration exercise.
“The conduct of the house-to-house registration exercise is illegal, unlawful and ultra vires, unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect is not granted, given my conclusion that the house-to-house registration in and of itself is not unconstitutional or unlawful,” the CJ said.
However, the CJ also noted that the removal of the names of persons who are already on the list of registrants and who are not, or have not been, or are not, registered in the current house-to-house registration exercise would be unconstitutional, unless they are decreased or disqualified, pursuant to Article 159 (2).”
It is our hope that GECOM does not further delay its decision on the issues in front of it. As the CCJ pointed out, the “pause” on the three-month deadline for elections was off since June 18. The Chair and the Commissioners should particularly heed two pertinent observations of Justice George in their written copy, which was fully reported in the press. To wit, that GECOM should examine options other than H2H registration to produce a valid voters list, since “GECOM cannot operate as if it is in a normal elections cycle.” The parameter is 3 months from December 21, 2018. Therefore, the date for holding elections is long gone.
In other words, the H2H exercise should be cancelled; a C&O embarked on immediately on the extant OLE, and a date as close to Sept 18 as possible be set for elections based on the timelines for the latter process. The clock is ticking.