Opposition walks out GECOM meeting

GECOM commissioners Desmond Trotman and Charles Corbin interacting with the media

— gov’t commissioners say vote on house-to-house registration carried

THE Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is expected to deliver a work programme to President David Granger even as there are major disagreements as to whether the matter was properly ventilated when the commission met on Thursday.

Opposition-nominated commissioners walked out of the meeting just as the commission was in the middle of voting on the motion of whether house-to-house registration should be included in the setting of an election time period.
Government-nominated commissioners contended that the motion was carried, noting that the opposition-nominated commissioners left in the middle of the process which is considered a vote by absentia.

Opposition commissioners walk out of GECOM’s statutory meeting on Thursday for the fourth consecutive time (Samuel Maughn photo)

Considering the divide, it is unclear whether the President will accept the presentation of the work programme or will request that the commission once again, iron out the issues with a clear decision.
The meeting on Thursday was called days before the expected statutory meeting on Tuesday as the previous March 12, 2019 meeting ended in stalemate with the walk out of opposition commissioners.

This most recent meeting marks the fourth consecutive time that such has occurred even as the President, on Wednesday, had re-emphasised the need for the commission to come to decision to facilitate his naming of an election date.

Coming out of the meeting, the opposition-nominated commissioners stated that talks on house-to-house registration followed by a motion in its favour triggered their walk out.
Prior to the act, Commissioner Bibi Shadick was presented a document which detailed how new general and regional elections could be held before April 30, 2019, when the current voters’ list expires.

However, contention arose when the two sides could not agree on the content of the proposal or on how such would be financed.
According to Commissioner Charles Corbin, the opposition-nominated commissioners argued that the financing should be based on their proposed reduced timeline.
Meanwhile, the other commissioners were in favour of each process required for elections being viewed singularly and, based on the shortest time in which they can be conducted credibly, a price would be attached.

“For instance, if you are going to ship our sensitive materials, normally what it would cost [was presented] and if you wanted the fastest possible expedited shipment, what that would cost [was presented]. When we went through that, that was what in effect we were debating,” Corbin said.

Around the period of these discussions, the motion was moved by Commissioner Vincent Alexander that house-to-house registration be included in the process of determining an election time period.

“We decided that we would not sit there and be in the same position as the Chairman Justice Retired Patterson; Commissioners Alexander, Corbin and Trotman. We will not sit there while they violate the Constitution,” Commissioner Benn told media operatives outside.

Commissioner Shadick added: “For me, as a commissioner, to sit there and to agree to any plan that takes us beyond April 30 would be me suborning the Constitution and that’s not something I will do.”

With motion being moved; seconded and the three commissioners already casting their vote prior to the departure of the other commissioners, Corbin and his colleagues agreed that the motion was carried.
“The vote was to proceed to elections with a list that is the basis of a house-to-house registration,” Corbin said.

“To quote Commissioner Shadick [she said] ‘I will not be voting on this question’… the chairman will have to communicate to the President what has occurred.”
House-to-house registration is expected to take an average of six months while the GECOM chair has previously indicated that elections preparations can be conducted simultaneously.
In addition, the GECOM Secretariat is to prepare a comparative financial document on what it would normally cost to facilitate elections versus what it would cost when this time is shrunk.

Giving an example, Corbin said the routine cost of shipment of sensitive material between 5-7 days is US$39,000 while to ship the same within 3-5 days it would cost between US$150,000 and US$200,000.

“Those are the decisions which we have to make,” Corbin said. “That goes in to the other question of how we spend the nation’s resources… we will present the two options and then there will be decision on that.”
The commissioners also discussed the scenario of the possibility of the opposition leader and the President agreeing to a date prior to when GECOM would have been scheduled to provide a new list through house-to-house registration and after the current list would have expired on April 30, 2019.

However, Corbin said that the fact remains that GECOM cannot be expected to hold elections within an impossible timeframe and with a flawed list.
While claims and objections can be used to provide a new list during this period, Corbin said it does not have the desired cleansing effect because of the inability of some persons to provide the death certificates.

Added to this, he stated that the last Official List of Electors had 633,156 persons and, while past efforts have been made to extract dead persons from the list, when the commission put forward an excess of 28,000 persons they received feedback on less than 1,000.

The commissioner stated further that whoever controls the “ghosts” on the list would in turn control the number of seats secured in the National Assembly, considering that the balance now rests at a one-seat majority.
At this time it is unknown whether when the commission meets again if it will continue beyond these matters or, perhaps, attempt to resolve the newly arising differences.