By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has spoken. It is not ready for General and Regional Elections and will not be any time soon.
This position was officially taken yesterday by way of a vote.
The Commission voted on three motions in the name of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Commissioner, Charles Corbin.
The first motion considered was one calling for President David Granger to be informed that GECOM cannot be ready for elections within the 90 days that the constitution prescribes in event that a motion of no-confidence is passed against the government.
GECOM recorded two People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Commissioners voting against that motion and one Commissioner abstaining. The three APNU Commissioners voted in favour of the motion and so it was carried.
Second, the Commission considered a motion that resolved to let it be registered that GECOM is not financially able to hold elections in the short term. All three PPP Commissioners voted against while APNU Commissioners voted for the motion. GECOM Chairman, Justice James Patterson voted with APNU Commissioners. That motion was therefore carried.
Third, the Commission considered a motion that gave direction to GECOM Secretariat for it to continue with its work programme for 2019, as it were before the passage of the no-confidence motion. That motion was passed, too, in the same fashion that the second was passed.
The third motion would see GECOM preparing for house-to house registration as was called for by the APNU and Alliance for Change (AFC). In this period, until a contradictory decision is made, GECOM will not act in accordance with any work programme that responds to a call for elections in the short term.
In the aftermath of yesterday’s vote, this newspaper conducted interviews with Commissioners Vincent Alexander and Sase Gunraj.
Alexander sits on GECOM in representation of APNU.
Alexander said that he sees yesterday’s vote as progress in that there is no longer any uncertainty about the position of GECOM.
He confirmed that there will be house-to-house registration as it forms part of GECOM’s “normal work programme.”
The Commissioner said, “Our work programme for 2019 has provision for a cycle of claims and objections and for house-to-house registration.”
He said that, almost instantaneously, GECOM will begin preparatory work for house-to-house registration, “meaning house-to-house will not begin tomorrow, but we will be preparing for house to house.”
At a press conference, Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, had stated that if there is to be house-to-house registration, General and Regional Elections cannot be held before February next year.
Yesterday, Kaieteur News asked Alexander if based on the decision to continue with the normal work plan which includes house-to-house registration Guyanese are not to expect elections before next February.
He responded, “People are linking this to the question of election. I do not know what will become of the elections; but what GECOM is doing in the meantime, is what we are supposed to do and when those other matters are settled we will respond.”
This newspaper asked Alexander if it is to be understood that GECOM is not continuing its work while ignoring the vote of no-confidence and the call for elections in three months.
The Commissioner explained, “We are not ignoring the motion. In relation to the motion, we said that we cannot do it in the stipulated time. There are routine things that GECOM is doing which will help in the preparation for elections but they are not things that are voted for under an election programme.”
Alexander said, too, that GECOM’s routine work which it is pursuing does not contradict preparation for election but cannot be considered as preparing for election.
He said that GECOM was not given any directive that speaks specifically to preparing for election.
Therefore, GECOM will “continue with its programme for 2019 which does not inherently conflict with election but is not the election preparation that the no-confidence motion stipulates. It is a process that will enhance its readiness for elections.”
The PPP sent out a statement yesterday registering that the “unilaterally appointed GECOM Chairman, James Patterson” voted with the APNU.
Alexander said that the Chairman indeed voted in favour of the motions. However, he was keen to note that the Chairman voted in the “normal course of things.” Alexander said that the Chairman can vote in the normal course of things and is also empowered to cast a deciding vote.
“(Yesterday) he did not have to use his deciding vote; he voted in the normal course of things.”
WRONG DIRECT ION
PPP Commissioner, Sase Gunraj is convinced that GECOM is heading in the wrong direction.
He told Kaieteur News that the Commission recorded him as abstaining to vote on the first motion when that was not the case. He said that he voted no.
Gunraj also claimed that house-to-house registration cannot be imminent.
He said that there was no vote on the specific issue. However, as explained by Alexander, while there was no specific vote on house-to-house, it forms part of GECOM programme for 2019.
Gunraj disputed this. “It does not have to be house-to-house because that is not the work plan that GECOM presented to us. There was no such vote by the commission that house-to-house must start.
“There was supposed to have a continuous registration cycle.”
Pointed to the fact that GECOM’s Budget sets aside money for house-to-house registration, Gunraj said, “but at this point there is no decision to start it and it was never GECOM’s intention to start house-to-house at this time.”
Gunraj even noted that GECOM is behind where it is supposed to be in its “normal work programme.” He said that the blame for this reality must be placed solely at the feet of the Chairman.
“The Chairman was away from November 19 until January 22, last and as a consequence, no step could have been taken in relation to continuous registration which was planned.”
Gunraj maintained that GECOM has a valid list which will expire on April 30. He reminded that that list was used three times in less than five years.
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