‘Bring me the evidence’

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Chairman of GECOM, Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh Photos by the Ministry of the Presidency

…GECOM dismisses PPP claims that 6,000 house-to-house registrants non-existent
…says: “Them not being home does not mean they do not exist

By Svetlana Marshall
WARNING that thousands of eligible Guyanese could be disenfranchised if they are unjustifiably removed from the Revised List of Electors, Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Justice (Ret’d) Claudette Singh said to date there is no evidence persons registered during the 2019 House-to-House registration are non-existent or do not live at the addresses listed.

On August 31, 2019, GECOM, cognizant of the fact that there was a need to facilitate early General and Regional Elections, concluded its House-to-House Registration Exercise – a process which was deemed legitimate by the High Court, and resulted in a total of 370,740 Guyanese being registered. In December, 2019, the Commission indicated that 60,000 of the more than 370, 000 persons registered, were new registrants based on a cross-matching exercise conducted by international digital security company, Gemalto. However, through its own efforts, the Commission later found that some 17,000 persons, who were deemed new, were already on the National Register of Registrants Database (NRRDB). From the approximately 43,000 persons remaining, some 27,000 were persons under the age of 18. It was agreed at the level of the Elections Commission in mid-December, 2019 that the remaining 16,863 registrants would undergo another round of verification. That verification process spanned from December 18-22, 2019 (a period of five days), and ended with approximately 10,000 of the more than 16,000 being verified. Approximately 6,534 were unconfirmed, meaning that they were not at their residences at the time of the visit.

On the grounds that the 16,000 plus Guyanese had registered during a legitimate process, and their existence and residency were verified during the House-to-House Registration, the Elections Commission took a decision to add them to the National Register of Registrants Database but this move has not received the support of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and its allies.

There has been a push for the ‘unverified’ 6,534 to be removed from the National Register of Registrants Database and by extension the Revised List of Electors for the upcoming general elections.

In a letter to the editor titled “The longer Justice Singh takes to discard the unverified HtH data, the deeper the risk of rigged elections,” Chartered Accountant and Politician, Nigel Hinds, who dropped out of the electoral race over his dual citizenship status, described the 6,000 plus registrants as “phantoms.”

But Justice (Ret’d) Singh, in an exclusive interview with the Guyana Chronicle on Friday, warned that it would be a breach of the Constitution to disenfranchise eligible Guyanese, who had registered during a legitimate process.

Iterating that the registrants’ information was verified during the 2019 House-to-House Registration, albeit in the absence of PPP/C scrutineers who had boycotted the process, the Elections Chairman said the time and season were factors that might have contributed to the registrants not being found at their places of residence during the second round of verification.

She explained that the verification exercise, conducted in a period of only five days, was done during the peak of the Christmas season, and it was possible that the new registrants could have been at work or engaged in other activities away from their homes, at the time of the visit. Them not being home does not mean they do not exist, the Elections Chairman made clear. “We have no evidence that they do not live at the addresses which they gave,” she told the Guyana Chronicle.

However, Justice (Ret’d) Singh is challenging anyone with information that would prove the contrary to come forward. “Now we are saying, if anyone has any evidence that these are empty house lots, then bring the evidence,” she challenged.

It was disclosed that Opposition-appointed Elections Commissioner, Robeson Benn supplied the names of four persons from Bath Settlement on the West Coast of Berbice, who are considered listed as new registrants but do not live at the addresses listed in the NRR Database. According to the Chair, the allegation is under active investigation, and GECOM’s officers are in the fields.

“We are verifying that information and if that is so then GECOM will take all the necessary steps to see that nobody is to be placed on the list that ought not to be there,” Justice (Ret’d) Singh assured this newspaper.

The Elections Chairman noted that she had taken a similar posture when treating with the list of over 18,000 persons who had failed to collect their Identification (ID) cards between 2008 and 2019.

In keeping with the proviso of Section 668 of the National Registration (Amendment) Act 2005, the Elections Commission, in November, 2019, published the names of the 18,000 persons who were registered, since 2008, but failed to collect ID cards, in the hope that they would uplift those cards, thereby verifying their existence. Those persons were also notified of the process by registered mail, but, although the exercise ran well over a period of 21 days, only approximately 1,000 persons uplifted their ID cards to date.
To remove them from the database on the grounds that they did not uplift their ID cards would be unconstitutional – a position strongly supported by the Opposition. It is believed that a large percentage of the 18,000 persons, who have not collected their ID cards, no longer reside in Guyana.

Justice (Ret’d) Singh said as in the case of the ID cards, it would be unjust to remove the 6000 plus persons because they were not at home at the time of the second round of verification.

“Why should I take off people? Come elections day, should these people come up with their pink slip, indicating that they were registered, what are we going to do? The people will demand that they have a right to vote because they were registered,” she reasoned.
All new registrants, she noted, will be issued with ID cards and that in itself would verify their existence. Added to that, she said on Elections Day, GECOM officials would make use of the folio, comprising electors’ information, in cases where eligible electors do not have any form of identification. Important to note, she said, is the fact that scrutineers from all the parties would be present to confirm the identities and information of electors before voting takes place.