By Kemol King
Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), (ret’d) Justice Claudette Singh S.C., is expected to render a landmark decision today at 10:30am, which will make way for President David Granger to announce a date for General and Regional Elections. She will decide on a timeline for GECOM’s readiness to hold elections, based on the discussions of yesterday’s statutory meeting at the agency’s Kingston Headquarters.
Deliberations from the statutory meeting last Tuesday had led the Commission to decide that Government-nominated Commissioner Charles Corbin and Opposition-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj would each make a submission, detailing how they arrived at their respective proposed timelines.
Gunraj had displayed enthusiasm on Tuesday about the prospect of his proposal being accepted by the Chair. But the Commissioner’s proposal of a November timeline led the Chair to question how he could possibly arrive at such a timeline for credible elections, given the statutory and other timelines GECOM is expected to maintain in preparation.
Despite agreeing to submit a work plan, Gunraj did not. He maintained, in the same vein as Commissioners Robeson Benn and Bibi Shadick, that elections must be held in November 2019.
According to Commissioner Vincent Alexander, that was all they contended, “and they were not prepared to discuss anything else.”
On the other hand, a press statement from GECOM disclosed that Corbin submitted a comprehensive work-plan with timelines and considerations reflecting the previous day’s discussions. Alexander told reporters after yesterday’s meeting that the timelines observed in Corbin’s proposal, in line with the Secretariat’s calculations, culminate with a March 2020 timeline.
He further said that there is some room for negotiations which could tighten the proposal, allowing for a slightly earlier date. It was Commissioner Shadick who, two weeks ago, revealed that the precise proposed date is March 23, 2020 – which she described as one year and two days away from the Constitutional date of March 21, 2019, or three months after the December 21, 2018 No Confidence motion.
It was also revealed that that timeline only allows about six to eight days of “wiggle room” – as Alexander puts it – for a bringing forward of the timeline. Opposition-nominated Commissioners had dismissed the difference as inconsequential.
In support of Corbin’s proposal, Alexander explained that it was guided by sensible timelines.
“So, you see the critical path and you see the non-critical path.”
The critical path he refers to, is the alignment of activities that grant the minimum time for the completion of the entire preparation for elections. In the case of Corbin’s proposal, the encoding of the data garnered from the suspended House-to-House exercise is currently considered to be on the critical path, because the production of a credible list cannot begin until the data is encoded. But if the Chair approves Corbin’s proposal, GECOM will move immediately to Claims and Objections, leaving the encoding to run concurrently, thereby removing it from the critical path.
The non-critical path details activities which do not hinder the progression of the Secretariat toward being ready for elections, like the production of ID cards.
Explaining Corbin’s proposal to bring an immediate start to Claims and Objections, Alexander said that the Secretariat would create a preliminary list while the encoding continues.
The data garnered from House-to-House, for which its encoding would have more time to complete, “will then become a comparator later in the process.” Alexander said. “It will not be holding up the process.”
This proposal likely resulted from disgruntlement, mainly from Opposition-nominated Commissioners, with the fact that the encoding process was taking much longer than the Secretariat intended. Yet, the caveat to those Commissioners’ frustrations was more premised on the fact that they do not support the merger of the House-to-House data and the NRR at all.
As for the Claims and Objections exercise, Corbin’s proposal is revealed to have provided 28 days (21+7). But Alexander could not recall exactly when that would begin. Again, he iterated, “this is what was proposed by the Secretariat.”
Asked whether there was any discussion of the need for identification cards to be produced, Alexander answered in the negative. But he upheld the view that, once Justice Singh makes a decision that incorporates the data from House-to-House and the NRR, “it stands to reason that we will have new ID cards.”
The Commission had come to an agreement, at an earlier meeting, that the Secretariat would not only go ahead with having ID cards produced at this time, but that it would also procure equipment to do the job, so that it would not have to outsource that particular task.
On the need for additional funding from Government, the Commissioner said that that was not discussed. Corbin had told Kaieteur News that the concern which was recently raised by Minister of Government, Volda Lawrence, was only a concern of hers, as he stated that GECOM does not foresee itself needing more money.
The only activity, according to Alexander, that may beckon additional funds, is the procurement and import of ballot boxes, if that is to be done over a shorter period than optimally planned. He had indicated previously that to move the arrival of the ballots forward by two days, it would cost GECOM as much as US$250,000. But those two days, he said, may not be critical.
Even then, he said, the issue of arrival of ballots is some time off, since GECOM must first observe Nomination Day, and have the Official List of Electors and symbols approved. He added that that activity is closer to, and “sometime around a month before election day.”
Alexander stressed that it is not “out of the top of the head” that the proposed date was arrived at.
“When you plug in the timelines in that programme, the programme generates a date.”
This is unlike Gunraj’s proposal, which suggested a date, with no actual plan.
Alexander had told reporters that it would create difficulties for one to choose a date without considering the timelines of the necessary preparatory activities.
It’s now left to the Chair, to determine what she will do with Corbin’s comprehensive plan and Gunraj’s unsupported November proposal. According to Alexander, a main concern of hers seems to be the curtailing of the timeframes to be ready at the earliest possible time.
A statement from GECOM disclosed that Justice Singh has undertaken to study the submission and consult with the Secretariat. Alexander said that she is also likely to reach out to the suppliers again for a final word before making a decision.
She is expected to, first, communicate her decision to the Commission, then, in accordance with Constitutional dictates, write the President.
Gunraj told reporters that her announcement will be rendered at 10:30am today.
A decision by the Justice Singh could bring a long-awaited conclusion to the gruelling court cases and other impasses which have dragged on, subsequent to the events of December 21, 2018.
A statement from the Ethnic Relations Commission, late last night, urged a swift resolution to the matters that followed the Motion, and implored the relevant stakeholders to do all that they can to ensure elections are held in the shortest possible time.
The President, who has maintained that he cannot force GECOM’s hand, would finally have the information needed to declare an election date.
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