GECOM pussyfooting on elections preparation

Court-ordered Article 106 March 19 elections

– Chairman fails to says when ‘green light’ will be given

As time continues to wind down on the constitutionally mandated and court-ordered General and Regional Elections by March 19, Chief Elections Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Keith Lowenfield, said he has been waiting since January for instructions from the Elections BODY to begin preparations for the polls but no word has been forthcoming from the Commission. Its Chairman, Justice James Patterson, was unable to tell reporters at a news conference on Friday why a decision is yet to be made.
“Approval has got to be granted to the secretariat for us to move into that mode… At this time, had that approval been provided, there would’ve been training tomorrow at some place. The ink issue and the seals and so on… would’ve been ordered and we would’ve been in a place moving towards a constitutional deliverable,” Lowenfield stated.
The seven-member Elections Commission is responsible for making decisions which will then be executed by the Secretariat and according to the Chief Elections Officer, he has been pleading with the decision-making body to give them the ‘green light’ to start elections preparations.
“You gotta move me into a mode, you can just say nothing to the secretariat. I’m flat-footed now… Here is the CEO pleading for the authority of my Commission to get active, to be part of whatever process is going to emerge when the decision is made. I’m already at go, you say move. But then the discussions go on and on…,” he asserted.
Nevertheless, Lowenfield posited that there are Commissioners who are willing to move forward with elections preparations but he emphasised that there needs to be unison on the part of the elections body on the way forward.
However, when asked what is holding up the Commissioner from giving the Secretariat the go ahead, Justice Patterson, who is the head of the Commission, refuses to say. In fact, he insisted that he cannot make the Commission come to a consensus on the way forward.

GECOM Chairman Justice James Patterson at Friday’s press conference surrounded by PRO Yolanda Warde, CEO Keith Lowenfied and Deputy CEO Roxanne Meyers

“That is not my ball to call. I’m Chairman of a commission, I can’t initiate and have implemented policy… [Deciding the way forward] depends on the circumstances that confront me. [The Commissioners] might take whatever wisdom I have to offer or they may not. There are people out there who feel the Commissioner has a special power to direct things. What I do is guide,” Justice Patterson told reporters on Friday.
Further pressed as to what circumstances would cause him to initiate that the Commission make a decision on the way forward, the Chairman said he could not think of any at the moment. Justice Patterson went on to emphasis that the Chairman alone does not constitute the Commission.
“You have to ask the Commissioners… individual Commissioners [what is holding up the decision on the way forward]… I can’t speak on behalf of the Commissioners unless it’s agreed to,” the Chairman asserted.
Meanwhile, during Friday’s press conference, the CEO firmly stated that elections cannot be held by the constitutionally due and court-ordered March 19 date. This, he noted, is as a result of the amount of preparations needed.
It was noted that a total of 148 days is needed to prepare for elections and according to Lowenfield, if the Secretariat now gets the go ahead to commence elections preparations, then the country could head to the polls sometime in July 2019.
Public Relations Officer at GECOM, Yolanda Ward, explained that with each passing day and no instruction from the Commission, a potential date for elections keeps getting pushed back.
Meanwhile, Deputy CEO, Roxanne Meyers, added that if a July date is being considered then it will have to be taken into account that the List of Electorates would be invalid since it would have expired on April 30.
According to Lowenfield, the options available to update the list are house-to-house registration, which will take some nine months, or a Claims and Objections (C&O) period which can last some 35 days. The latter, he noted, is the most favourable option which will see the use of the expired list being used as a preliminary list in the process of creating a new Official List of Electors (OLE).
“…for the purposes of this elections, what the Secretariat has suggested to the Commission is that we do a C&O with registration for a duration of 28 days period and a seven days objections period with the view… towards an early deliverable for elections,” he stated.
The Chief Elections Officer disclosed that the elections body had used the C&O mechanism in the past for the production of an OLE for the hosting of polls.
As time progresses without any move towards the hosting of elections, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Opposition is accusing the Elections Commission of deliberately delaying polls.