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GECOM mulls house-to-house registration vs claims and objections; asks Finance Ministry about using GYD$3 billion for elections

Pro-coalition GECOM Commissioners Vincent Alexander, Desmond Trotman and Charles Corbin speaking with the media outside GECOM’s headquarters after a statutory meeting.

Even as Guyana’s opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP)-nominated elections commissioners signaled that some progress has been made, their governing Coalition counterparts are adamant that house-to-house registration is the only means to sanitise the voters’ list of dead persons and emigrants.

PPP-backed Commissioner Robeson Benn told Demerara Waves Online News that the elections could be held soon with a claims and objections period for the list. “We on our side insist that house-to-house is not necessary. Claims and objections, with registration, can take care of the issues they raise along with the procedures to verify a voter’s credentials at the place of poll. The house-to-house is an extreme resort in the circumstances and is grasped at to prevent the holding of any elections in 2019,” Benn lamented.

While governing Coalition-nominated Commissioner Charles Corbin stressed that house-to-house registration is the only method by which the voters’ list could be cleansed of the dead and emigrants, at the same time he said the method to be used must be backed with law.

“The only procedure at the moment that we assure you standing up on solid ground for sanitisation is house-to-house (registration). If there is another procedure, those proposals must come and I would say that once you come up with a procedure that is acceptable, we must have it anchored in legislation so that we would not have an issue after the process where somebody challenges what we do and so we run into a problem there,” Corbin said.

Corbin said the Commission would first have to satisfy itself that the registration method does not open up the possibility of calling the election results into question. “All the stakeholders have recognised and called for the sanitisation of the list. The only difference across the stakeholders is what method is to be used. (What) we as a Commission must be concerned about is that whatever that decision is that it is properly legislated so that we don’t end up where the parties in Parliament come to an agreement and then you proceed to act and some time somebody raises an issue, you go to the court and it is vitiated as has happened in the past,” he said.

He said house-to-house is the only process of finding a proper method to remove deceased persons and emigrants. Corbin noted that two of the 23 reasons in a petition for questioning the results of the 2015 general elections “are anchored in the quality of the list”.

The governing Coalition-backed commissioners said Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield has been tasked with asking the Ministry of Finance whether the GYD$3 billion allocated for house-to-house registration this year can be used to finance the holding of general elections.

PPP-nominated election commissioners Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Robeson Benn.

“It is a dynamic situation,” remarked pro-governing coalition elections commissioner, Vincent Alexander to reporters shorty after a statutory meeting on Tuesday. On the question of why the need to seek clarity from the Ministry of Finance if  house-to-house registration is a non-negotiable position by three of the seven-member commission, Corbin insisted that “there has to be a new appropriation” for election.

Alexander said the two options towards holding general elections are whether to have a claims and objections period on the existing list which expires on April 30, 2019 or hold house-to-house registration which would take nine months. “We have not dealt with the question of a specific action in terms of when GECOM could propose when elections can be held. They still have not done with that. On the table for all intents and purposes is the question of CLO [claims and objections] versus house-to-house registration,” he said. He added that claims and objections, which could take four weeks, could only update instead of sanitise the list.

Elections commissioner, Desmond Trotman added that a claims and objections exercise would eliminate “a whole lot of persons who should be eligible to be on the list” and would deliver an unsatisfactory elections. “If you go the way in which it is being advanced at this particular point in time, we are going to have chaos again,” said Trotman who is an executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).

PPP-backed commissioners, Sase Gunraj and Bibi Shadick would only say that some progress has been made, but declined to divulge details. “Today we a tad more progress and we are scheduled to meet tomorrow [Wednesday] at 1:30 pm because we have committed to ourselves and to the Commission to hammer out these issues, I believe, in a timely manner,” Shaddick said. She added, “we had other things that I am not giving you details of but we have little baby steps happening,” she said.

Asked whether there has been a shift in the PPP commissioners’ hard-line position of elections by March 20, Corbin indicated that the “ground has now opened up and there appear to be some level of discussion.” “People are now open to discuss the options which have been presented to us,” Corbin said.

GECOM has already said it could not hold elections by March 20, 2019 when the 90-day deadline would expire to hold general elections after the National Assembly’s passage of the no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018. Instead, the commission says it needs 148 days to prepare for general elections with a claims and objections period.

Commissioner Benn reiterated that GECOM’s mandate is to hold elections within 90 days of December 21, 2018. “They have managed to create considerable lost time! The resort to any initiative in Parliament is the business of the principals,” he said.

While ignoring the ways of shortening  the preparations for elections which the PPP commissioners have proposed, Benn said GECOM has moved the training and evaluation from 90 to 105 days and to now 148 days for this activity. “They, in my view, are… stalling on direction out of fear, intimidation and/or are complicit in an effort which can only lead us into crisis,” he stated.