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GECOM rebuffs PPP’s claim of plans to pad voters’ list

Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and GECOM Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally.

Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and GECOM Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally.

by Denis Chabrol and Gary Eleazar

Top Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) officials on Monday dismissed People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) claims that a plan has been hatched to pad future voters’ lists by sharing the database with the Ministries of Education and Social Services.

GECOM Chairman, Dr. Steve Surujbally ruled out voter-padding, saying that a completely new house-to-house registration exercise would be held next year and that list would be periodically sanitized by continuous registration cycles. Party scrutineers would accompany GECOM officials in registering and verifying persons during the house-to-house exercise.

“There is no padding of any list going on. There was never padding of list during my time,” he said.

Surujbally noted that the seven-member GECOM had unanimously agreed to share the publicly available database “within the context of collaboration with all entities that have the same purpose to uplift Guyana in relation to activities that are positive to our nation.”

Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield explained that the names and addresses of parents have been shared with the Ministry of Education at its request to help place students in schools after  examinations. “The Ministry, as a policy standpoint, said they would have to be guided by the addresses as provided by GECOM for these parents who run into problems as far as their addresses are concerned at the time of placement,” he said.  Lowenfield said only the names and addresses have been provided.

Lowenfield denied Rohee’s claim that GECOM has also dispatched its database to the Ministry of Social Protection. Instead, the Chief Elections Officer said the names of less than 100 persons were submitted to GECOM to verify whether they were 65 years and older and were eligible for Old Age Pension. No discrepancies were found, he said.

Dealing with PPP General Secretary, Clement Rohee’s claim that GECOM’s Registration Officers have been accepting ‘late registration birth certificates’ from applicants who are primarily middle-aged persons, Lowenfield said the use of such certificates was nothing new. He said decades-old persons, who have never had a birth certificate, could apply for one for the first time and use it to register with GECOM.

The PPP’s General Secretary lamented the sharing of the GECOM’s database of its list of registrants with the two ministries calling it unprecedented and warned of ‘skullduggery’ once again being the making.

PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee

PPP General Secretary Clement Rohee

He sought to rubbish the justification presented by GECOM Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally, as ‘spurious’ and “creates ground for suspicion.

Rohee maintains that the sharing of the database “smacks of deep suspicion that GECOM database could be used for other sinister electoral purposes.”

The nation, he said, must be consulted on the “unsolicited release of registrants.” According to Rohee, “the PPP views as absolutely necessary, the need to validate the need to share its database.”

Rohee said too that the PPP is deeply concerned by recent actions on the part of GECOM through its Registration Officers, to accept as source documents, ‘late registration birth certificates’ by applications who are primarily middle aged persons.

He said these actions are dripping with suspicion, taken in the context of what he called the “rigging machine” in the form of the Ministry of Citizenship under the Ministry of the Presidency.

Conceding that a portion of the GECOM database is made public, Rohee said while this is the case, some confidential information is retained by the Elections Commission and this is not made public.

Rohee is adamant that the Ministry of Social Protection possess the institutional capacity to sanitise its own list of pensioners and as such the move to acquire GECOM’s database is uncalled for. On the matter of the sharing of the list with the Ministry of Education, Rohee said, this is “fraught with unimaginable implications for free and fair elections in Guyana.”