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GECOM’s new Claims and Objections method is “backdoor” attempt to remove names from voters list, flouts laws – former House Speaker

Former PPP Executive Member and House Speaker, Ralph Ramkarram.

Former House Speaker, Ralph Ramkarran on Sunday said the Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) request for all persons on the preliminary voters’ list to self-verify their existence by going to commission outposts with their registration records flouts the constitution, laws and the High Court.

“It is clear that the intention behind the order requiring persons “in Guyana” whose names appear on the Preliminary List of Electors to verify their registration records for inclusion in the Official List of Electors is that persons who do not comply will have their names not included in the Official List of Electors and will be deprived of the right to vote,” he said in his weekly column on the Conversation Tree website.

Ramkarran, a seasoned Guyanese politician who has fought several election-related cases in the High Court when he was a member of the People’s, Progressive Party (PPP), said GECOM intends to remove the names of persons on the list in violation of the Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire’s decision that states that it will be unlawful to do so for persons who are not at their registered addresses.

He says GECOM has embarked on a “backdoor” plan to take the names of persons off the voters’ list by requiring all 500,000 plus electors within 50 days to prove their existence or suffer deletions from the list. “The Elections Commission has hijacked the Claims and Objection exercise from electors, who it is meant to facilitate, in order to itself utilize it unlawfully to disqualify electors. It is subverting the Chief Justice’s decision, through the back door,” he said.

From the inception, the pro-governing coalition election commissioners – Vincent Alexander, Charles Corbin and Vincent Alexander – had been exploring several options to remove the names of deceased persons and migrants from the voters’ list.

Ramkarran explained that the objectives of Claims and Objections are to allow electors to register, update their particulars and to make objections to the preliminary voters’ list. “Its objective is not to aid the Elections Commission or registration officials to verify the particulars of electors,” he added.

Referring to a signed Order by GECOM Chairperson Justice (Rtd.) Claudette Singh, Ramkarran stated “The objective of the Order was to provide for what has become known as Claims and Objections. The Order is peculiarly named The National Registration (Residents) Order and not, as would have been expected, “The National Registration (Claims and Objections) Order.” The naming of the Order unwittingly exposes its nefarious objective – to undo the decision of the Chief Justice that non-residents cannot be taken off the List.”

The Senior Counsel questioned that if it was unconstitutional and unlawful, according to the Chief Justice, to remove names of electors, except pursuant to Article 159(2) during the house-to-house registration exercise, how can it be lawful to remove names of electors under Claims and Objections, because they do not attend a registration office and prove that they are lawfully registered?

He says “Claims and Objections” are provided for by section 15 of the National Registration Act but it is not defined. However, GECOM’s Manual of Instructions does at page 10. It states: “Revision of List of Electors: Claims and Objections: The Claims and Objections exercise within the Continuous Registration process will be conducted at the registration offices and sub-offices for a specified period of time. The exercise provides eligible electors, who did not register, the opportunity to gain entry to the list of electors or to update their particulars (transfers and changes). It also provides the opportunity for objections to particulars in the Preliminary List of Electors (PLE)….”

Order No. 70 of 2019 requires that the Registration Officer of each Registration Area to prepare a list of electors for that Registration Area and fixing the qualifying date as 31 December, 2019. Section 4 provides that it applies (a) to all persons in Guyana who have attained the age of eighteen years; (b) to persons whose names appear on the Central Register who wish to effect change/corrections to their particulars and transfers; and (c) to persons whose names appear on the Preliminary List of Electors who are required to visit their Registration Office to verify their registration records for inclusion in the Official List of Electors.

He says the Elections Commission justifies its Order, or relies on it, on the basis of sections 6(1)(a) and 13 referred to above. Section 6(1)(a) provides that: “It shall be lawful for the Commissioner by order with effect from a specific date to authorize the registration of – (a) all persons who are qualified to be electors.” Section 13(1) provides that the Commissioner may require any person to furnish such information as may be or become relevant to the registration or the cancellation or alteration of a person. It is nowhere stated what the consequence of non-attendance of an elector would be.

“The lack of clarity and silence suggest the worst – electors who do not show up would have their names deleted from the List,” he says. “The clear objective of the Claims and Objections exercise is to facilitate electors to change their particulars or make objections. It is not a scheme to enable the Elections Commission itself to require in violation of the Chief Justice’s decision, misusing the objective of the Claims and Objections exercise,” he said.

The GECOM Chairman has not appeared at a news conference since taking up her appointment in late July. Requests for interviews have been declined.

In the Christopher Ram Case in which the Chief Justice gave decision on 14 August 2019, Ram recalled that the Chief Justice ruled: “….the removal of names of persons who are already on the list of registrants and who were not, or have not been, or are not registered in the current house to house registration exercise with a consequence of non-inclusion in the list of electors, would be unconstitutional, unless they are deceased or disqualified pursuant to Art. 159(2) with the safeguards for removal of the names of persons pursuant to the National Registration Act, Chapter 19.08 to be strictly complied with.”

Ramkarran is an executive member of the recently-formed new political party, A New and United Guyana (ANUG). He and former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, who is an executive member of the PPP, recently represented Ram before the Chief Justice on the issue of removal of names from the national register of registrants.