GECOM set for house-to-house registration

The office of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)

…key meeting planned with secretariat today

A MEETING to be held with the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Secretariat today should confirm whether the electoral body will go ahead with its planned house-to-house registration which has been gazetted to start on Saturday.

There are new developments as a publication in the Official Gazette dated June 11, 2019 shows that an order was documented for the registration exercise to commence on July 20 and end on October 20, 2019. This is a period of approximately three months which received the signature of former GECOM Chair, Justice (Rtd.) James Patterson.

The order, cited as the National Registration (Residents) Order 2019, stated: “Persons to whom this Order applies shall, in accordance with Section 6 of the Act, be registered under the process of house-to-house registration with reference to October 31, 2019 and the registration shall begin on July 20, 2019 and end on October 20, 2019.”

It stated that this applies to all persons qualified to be electors and all who, on the qualifying date of October 31, 2019, shall have attained the age of 14 years old.

At a press conference on Thursday, Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, fumed over the content of the order stating that the recent ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) trumps the National Registration (Residents) Order. Speaking with the newspaper on the same day, GECOM’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Yolanda Ward, confirmed the legitimacy of the order but refrained from delving into legal matters.

She stated that a meeting to be held with the secretariat today will result in her firm confirmation on the matter. “I am not the legal mind and I don’t want to go out with any kind of statement to be publicly quoted and then I have to go with a retraction. I prefer to speak particularly to the media from a premise of accuracy and a definitive position…I think I would be in better position to say anything on house-to-house registration by tomorrow [today],” Ward told this newspaper. “I’ll have meetings tomorrow and I’ll have to see what the outcomes of those meetings are before I can say anything.”

On June 18, 2019 the court upheld the no-confidence vote against the government and quashed the appointment of Patterson as Chairman of the Commission. However, on July 12, 2019, the court gave Consequential Orders that it had no authority to set a timeline or date for the holding of elections in Guyana.

It stated that only the President, the National Assembly and GECOM can set out a timeline for such. The opposition leader had also submitted to the court that it was not necessary for the Elections Commission to proceed with house-to-house registration and asked that the commission be ordered to use the Official List of Electors (OLE) in existence in March 2019. However, by virtue of the previous decision, the CCJ also rejected the line of argument.

The leader of the opposition and the President are now in the process of finalising a list of six eligible individuals, from which the President will choose a new Chair. Before Patterson voluntarily left office, his last instruction to the commission was for the commencement of preparations towards the conduct of house-to-house registration. This was decided in February 2019 by the seven-member commission by way of vote.

Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield

In March, the Guyana Chronicle reported on the training of Assistant Registration Officers (AROs) and enumerators with the actual process of house-to-house expected to begin in June, 2019. Later, experiencing procurement challenges, this commencement date was pushed back.

These and more occurred during the ‘tug and pull’ period when the Appellate Court nullified the no-confidence vote after the High Court upheld it causing the matters to be taken to the CCJ.

Meanwhile, Patterson’s signature was attached to the National Registration (Residents) Order over a week before the CCJ’s initial ruling. Speaking with this newspaper, Attorney General, Basil Williams, stated that the CCJ has left all matters regarding the determination of the means in which elections are to be conducted and the timeframe, to GECOM, the President and the Constitution.

“He [Jagdeo] went to the court asking for several orders and the court refused him. One of the orders is that GECOM must hold elections by a certain time and the President must announce a date. All that have been wiped out,” Williams stated. “The CCJ said they’re not interfering with GECOM by giving them timelines and deadlines; they are Constitutional actors and they must know what they have to do and they must do so with integrity.”

There has been much contention over the now-expired OLE as the government and many Guyanese want the thousands of dead and non-resident persons off the list and those now eligible on. They believe that with Guyana’s known history of accusations of rigged elections and calls for the recounting of votes, it is only fitting that the country heads into what has been dubbed “the mother of all elections” with the most credible list.
Asked whether GECOM requires a chairman before it can commence house-to-house registration, one commissioner told the newspaper: “No, because the instructions for that were given before the chairman departed. But, they need a chairperson to give any new instruction to the administration. I do not know that there has been any change.”

Meanwhile, several individuals, who were trained by the commission to participate in the house-to-house registration exercise, told the Guyana Chronicle on Thursday that they have been asked to attend a special meeting on Friday. “They didn’t state that it would be starting actually but they just called us yesterday and said there’s a meeting on Friday. They didn’t say whether it’s going to start,” one individual in Kwakwani, Region 10 stated.
Ward confirmed that individuals were indeed being called but this is to determine their preparedness to conduct the registration exercise.

“I know that Registration Officers have been contacting persons. Basically, it’s to find out their availability because it’s been a while between the gap from when we had the house-to-house training to now. So, the intended purpose is to find out their readiness and so on to have staff in place,” Ward said. Earlier in the year, she notified the newspaper that those trained are expected to amount to some 1,800 teams and over 4,000 employees. Already, some 200 cluster offices country-wide have been identified which should serve as meeting bases for the verification of information gathered. The registration exercise would create a new OLE with the previous list having been expired since April 30, 2019.