Press Association calls out GECOM for slow release of information

…says Secretariat inaccessible, urges int’l observers to take note

The Guyana Press Association (GPA) criticised the slow manner in which information of public concern pertaining to elections is being released by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to the media.

Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield

In a statement on Wednesday, the GPA, which is headed by journalist Nazima Raghubir, noted that GECOM must be held accountable for not clarifying misinformation and accusations made with the urgency it requires.
“The GPA is dissatisfied with the lack of timely information from GECOM, and slow response to matters of national interest relative to the pending General and Regional Elections. To date, key and critical questions have gone unanswered.”
The Association added that even questions for planning and administrative purposes remain unanswered. “The Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, and the Chairman, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, are for the most part inaccessible,” the GPA’s statement added.

GPA President
Nazima Raghubir

According to GPA, the several elections observer missions in the country ought to take notice of this issue. The Association also urged that the concerns raised be addressed in a timely manner by GECOM.
“The GPA calls on all election observation missions to take note of the disservice being meted out to the populace by GECOM by allowing claims, accusations and rumours to fester. If not addressed with a sense of urgency and professionalism, GECOM must regard itself as a willing participant in any unfortunate reaction.”
“The GPA has appealed at the highest level of GECOM for these concerns to be addressed and remains hopeful that corrective measures would be put in place to facilitate easier access to information and timely responses.”

Soldiers unable to vote
On February 21, 2020, the day the Disciplined Services went out to vote, a number of soldiers from Eteringbang were unable to vote. The incident was alluded to by A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) in a statement on Wednesday in which it urged GECOM to ensure these soldiers are able to vote.
The incident was only confirmed officially by GECOM to the media on Wednesday, several days after. According to Public Relations Officer Yolanda Warde, a total of 43 Disciplined Service members were indeed unable to be transported out of Eteringbang. However, she noted that provisions are being made for them to vote on Election Day, March 2.
“The pilot advised that he could not land there and return to Georgetown,” Warde explained. “35 Police Officers and 8 Soldiers did not vote. GECOM would be transporting those persons from that location to their respective polling stations to vote on E-day.”
Perhaps one of the most contentious issues in the run-up to the elections has been GECOM’s drastic reduction of polling places. The parliamentary Opposition had accused GECOM of discrimination since most of the reductions are in People’s Progressive Party (PPP) strongholds.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo consequently met with GECOM on Tuesday and was given assurances that at least 12 additional polling places would be added. Asked for an update on this on Wednesday, Warde said that some adjustments are to be made. Though she could not say definitively if they would be to all 12 places. She promised, however, to update the media when confirmed.

Another issue addressed by Warde following the release of the statement is the tabulation process. International observer group Carter Center had called on GECOM to clarify the process, noting that the procedure has not been made clear to stakeholders.
In her comments on the issue, Warde noted that the tabulation process is enshrined in the laws. She explained that tabulation and declarations are done at two levels, the Returning Officers (RO) and the Chief Elections Officer.
She explained that the Statement of Polls (SoP) are transmitted from the Presiding Officers at each polling place to the deputy returning officers (DRO). The DRO then transmits this data to the RO, who keeps one copy of the SoP and transmits the other to the CEO.