Nov 03, 2022 News
…highlight discrepancies for smooth credible polls
By Zena Henry
Kaieteur News – Opposition Commissioners attached to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) have withheld their support for the holding of the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE) claiming a number of inconsistencies relative to the smooth and credible holding of local polls.
This information was related by Commissioner Vincent Alexander as he provided an update to this newspaper regarding preparation for the overdue elections. He told the Kaieteur News that Opposition nominated commissioners registered their concerns via a statement during Tuesday’s statutory meeting.
Alexander explained that the Commissioners withheld their support for the LGE which is expected in March of next year, because GECOM not only failed to review its performance in the highly controversial 2020 elections before the holding of any other elections, but because it also failed to put measures in place that would address the issues that led to the 2020 fiasco, including the use of electronics relating to the identification of voters. Additionally, the Commissioners are concerned that amendments to the Representation of the Peoples Act (RoPA) are likely effective ahead of the LGE, but no preparation is being made in this regard by GECOM.
Alexander said that while GECOM’s refused to review its operations after the 2020 elections, the Commissioners, “… are of the view that a review would have better equipped GECOM to streamline its systems for the holding of elections.” As such, he said: “the Commission refused to proceed with the use of fingerprints at the place of poll for voter identification and has not attended to the second motion on biometrics which was submitted over two months to date.” As well, Alexander continued, “plans are proceeding for elections in the shadow of electoral reform that might take effect before the elections, although GECOM’s plan has not anticipated or catered for the government’s proposed reform.” He highlighted also that at the government consultation, it was announced that the RoPA would be amended before the elections, “…but as far as I know we are planning without reference to the amendments.” These said amendments will also have to be discussed at the National Assembly, so to have any preparation on those would be preemptive, he noted.
When the matter regarding electronics that assist with capturing voter information was brought up a few weeks ago, Government-nominated commissioners were not keen on the idea of GECOM budgeting for the acquisition of a scanner that would allow its Information Technology (IT) division to develop a system for the digital capture of fingerprints. “This is despite this issue being on GECOM’s agenda for over a decade and the scanner was even included in the 2021 budget but was not acquired,” Alexander notified. He said that claims were that such an acquisition must await the discussions on biometrics despite this matter also being frequently postponed.
Alexander had explained that the scanner was being refused despite the equipment being proposed, “…is merely a technological upgrade of the matter of capture of fingerprints and has no impact on anything else biometric.” He said that “There is a clear attempt to stymie any progress that will enhance and make the systems at GECOM transparent.”
Government Commissioner Sase Gunraj had confirmed the Opposition’s support of the scanner but highlighted that, “The Commission has never taken a decision on biometrics.” He said that the matter was in fact, still to be discussed by the Commission. As a consequence, any acquisition before this is concluded can only be considered premature,” he said.
Some stakeholders have expressed grave concern over a bloated voters list heading into the LGE. The Opposition, A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) party, for instance has strongly insisted on voter impersonation taking place during the 2020 elections. They have thus called for the use of biometrics as a means of mitigating such occurrences through the use of voter’s unique physical information to identify them at the polling place. The biometrics is being pushed as GECOM has said that it has no way of removing dead and absent persons from the voters list given the High Court’s ruling regarding the legal ways in which voters names could be removed.
During a Press Conference at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre in August, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had expressed that he was not in support of the biometrics system as he believed it would be used to disenfranchise voters and that the Opposition would use the method to challenge the election by claiming biometric use as an irregularity, something he said the Government would not be falling for. “We will not support the use of biometrics as a restriction on people’s right to vote,” Jagdeo had told media operatives. He had said too that no house to house would be held before the holding of LGE.
Biometric system at polling stations is among the key recommendations of the Opposition and was proposed for the RoPA amendments. Jagdeo had said that amendments would be presented to the National Assembly by October and would be passed before the LGE by year-end.
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