‘We’ll be ready in February’

Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission, Retired Justice Claudette Singh

…GECOM chair advises President commission will be ready for polls by end of February 2020
…urges staff to work honestly, diligently to meet deadline

IN a letter addressed to President David Granger, chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice Claudette Singh said by the end of February 2020, the electoral body would be ready to hold General and Regional elections.

President Granger is now expected to announce an election date based on the timeline presented to him by the GECOM chair. Justice Singh, in her letter to the President, informed the Head of State that she is cognizant of the fact that the Guyanese Leader and the nation were anxiously awaiting the specific information in relation to GECOM’s readiness to conduct credible elections in the shortest time possible.

She said that the February 2020 timeline considers all the objective factors, deliberations of the commission, and her most recent consultations with the GECOM secretariat. President Granger subsequently told members of the media that the government is complying with the Constitution of Guyana since it is allowing the electoral body to do its work.
Speaking at the sidelines of a Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GM&SA) luncheon at the Pegasus, the President said that it is impossible for the Executive to take part in the running of elections, noting that his government will not impede the work of GECOM.

On Thursday, with the exception of Canada, the joint missions-the United States, the European Delegation to Guyana and the British High Commission- said that by surpassing September 18, 2019, the Government is in breach of the Constitution “following its failure to adhere to the decisions of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on 18 June and its subsequent orders.”

The President in his response, stressed the importance of the functions of GECOM as he called on the foreign missions to allow his government to resolve the issues regarding the electoral process. PNCR General Secretary and Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally said she endorsed the position taken by the President regarding GECOM’s independence. “We can’t fight with GECOM,” she said, noting that when the body is ready to host the elections, the president would have to abide with commission’s state of readiness. ”We can’t tell GECOM about the timelines, they know what they are doing,” she said.

On Thursday afternoon, Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo said he was “surprised” by Justice Singh’s pronouncement. During his tirade, he spoke highly of Justice Singh but criticised her decision regarding the February 2020 timeline. As he attacked the GECOM official, he said her pronouncement contradicts an earlier declaration which he noted was given by Singh regarding the holding of elections before year end. Only the President is in a position to announce a date for elections.

Regarding Tuesday’s statutory meeting of the commission, Jagdeo said “at the last moment” the commissioners were asked by the chair to submit proposals regarding elections timelines. He said nothing about Opposition Commissioner Sase Gunraj’s inability to provide a timeline to the commission as agreed to when the commissioners met on Tuesday.

Jagdeo also launched a personal attack on staffers of the GECOM Secretariat, whom he accused of sabotaging the electoral process. He also launched an attack on the personal gains of the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and other staffer of the body. According to Jagdeo, the government wants to hold elections after Mashramani 2020 and he assumed that the administration wants to spend monies on activities during the Republic festivities to sway the electorate.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued late on Thursday, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) called on the President to proclaim a date, not later than the earliest date suggested by the GECOM Chair, for the holding of General Elections. The GCCI said the populace deserves transparency and accountability from institutions at all levels of government and the body called on the country’s leaders to maintain democracy by acting in accordance with the supreme law of Guyana.

During the Tuesday, September 17 Statutory Meeting of the commission, it was agreed that Commissioners Corbin and Sase Gunraj would submit separate schedules based on the proposals made during the meeting, but, on Wednesday, the Opposition-nominated Commissioners backpedalled on their position, and declined to justify their November timeline for elections.

“All they contended is that elections should be held by November and they were not prepared to discuss anything else,” Commissioner Vincent Alexander said on Wednesday following the meeting.

“The presentation is in the form of Microsoft project, so you see the critical path and you see the non-critical path; and in fact, it is not out of the top of the head that you arrive at a date because when you plug in the timelines in that programme, the programme generates a date,” Commissioner Alexander explained as he alluded to the proposal made by Commissioner Charles Corbin.

He said in that proposal, the encoding of data garnered from the just concluded House-to-House Registration has been taken off the critical path, thereby allowing for the Secretariat to proceed with the production of the preliminary list, and the conduct of Claims and Objections even as the encoding continues. “So the information encoded would then become a comparator later in the process but will not be holding up the process,” he posited. Approximately 200,000 of the more than 370,000 names have been encoded.

It was disclosed, too, that in that proposal, the Claims and Objections period was set for 21 plus seven days. “This is what in fact was proposed by the secretariat as well,” Commissioner Alexander added. When it comes to the delivery of the ballot papers, he noted that to fast track this by merely two days would cost the Commission an additional US$250,000 or some GUY$52,165,000. The GECOM Secretariat has been actively training polling day staff countrywide. Thus far, training of polling day staff has been completed in several regions. In South Georgetown at 20 locations, 1,185 participants have been trained; on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD) at 20 locations 1,201 were trained; on the East Bank of Demerara (EBD) and in Region Five at 21 locations, 1,596 were trained; in Region Six at 25 locations 1,940 were trained and at 25 locations between Regions One, Two and 10, 2,030 were trained.

The commission must now conduct training in the hinterland and in other parts of Georgetown with all training expected to be completed by October.