The Opposition-nominated Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Tuesday walked out of a meeting with the entity’s Chairman, retired Justice James Patterson, over arguments in relation to the placement of advertisements for workers to conduct house-to-house registration.
People’s Progressive Party’s Commissioner Robeson Benn was the first to leave. His departure was followed by the other two Opposition Commissioners, Bibi Shadick and Sase Gunraj. Benn said he argued that it was not an activity established by GECOM’s budget process. In fact, these Commissioners believe GECOM should be engaged in carrying out its claims and objection period based on an order, which should have been signed by the Chairman in 2018.
“Directions for the placements of ads were given by the Chairman. I objected and said this should not happen. I said that the Chairman’s power and activity in the public and even there, arises from a decision of the Commission… either by or by consensus,” Benn told media operatives on Tuesday.
He maintained that house-to-house registration is not a priority activity of GECOM, while explaining that a decision was not made on this matter because discussions were still ongoing. He recalled that during the last discussion, it was suggested that house-to-house registration could take more than nine months, or the six months which was recommended by Commissioner Vincent Alexander.
“Now here out of the blue we see ads in the newspapers for house-to-house registration which is not a priority activity even for the resumption of GECOM by its normal activities… the undertaking of any house-to-house registration when we have not finalised a discussion of the matter was going along with a partisan position in respect of the matter,” Benn further added.
He also reiterated that there was a conspiracy to delay the holding of General Elections despite the No-confidence Motion that was passed in the National Assembly. He claimed that Patterson leap-frogged efforts by advertising for house-to-house registration staff, saying that it reinforced concerns about his partisan nature and his placement. He said, “The Commission has been captured and is being directed otherwise by one side of the bipartisan political spectrum that we have.”
On the other hand, however, Alexander challenged the comments made by Benn, declaring that house-to-house registration is just part of the Commission’s normal work programme. He claimed that the 2019 work programme included house-to-house registration.
Alexander also declared that there are other activities in which GECOM is engaged in, to start election preparation, and that the election manuals are close to completion. Meanwhile, to support his argument, another Government-appointed Commissioner, Charles Corbin, said there is nothing strange with carrying out house-to-house registration, although an election should be held on March 19.
The Opposition has maintained that house-to-house registration could not be accommodated. The party feels the People’s National Congress Commissioners are pushing for house-to-house registration in order to have a delay in the hosting of General and Regional Elections.
The Opposition-appointed Commissioners on Sunday called on GECOM to withdraw advertisements for staff to conduct house-to-house registration. Advertisements have been publicised for the positions of Assistant Registration Officer and Enumerator; both of which are temporary positions for house-to-house registration.
But GECOM’s Public Relations Officer, Yolanda Warde claimed that a majority voted to inform President David Granger, to continue its routine work for 2019. That essentially included ensuring that the current voters’ list remained valid after it expires on April 30, 2019 while at the same time conducting house-to-house registration.