GECOM budget proposal seeks funding for new house-to-house voter registration
-Jagdeo warns of potential to delay polls
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has presented a request to the Ministry of Finance for funding of a national house-to-house registration exercise for a new voters’ list as part of its preparation for the 2020 general elections.
“The commission, in our budget preparation and presentation - we have factored in the possibility of house-to-house registration,” Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield told a press conference on Friday.
Lowenfield explained that GECOM gave approval for the Secretariat budgeting to provide for the conduct of a houseto-house registration exercise next year. Asked about the cost, Lowenfield said it was not for him to make that disclosure but indicated that it was substantial.
In April, the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), the largest party in the coalition government, called for house-to-house registration to clean up the voters’ list.
PNCR General Secretary Amna Ally had suggested that a registration should begin as soon as possible because the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had been making a lot of allegations.
When asked in April how much it would cost to conduct another round of house-to-house registration, Lowenfield had estimated it to be around $1 billion.
Efforts to contact Ally, PNCR Chairperson Volda Lawrence and Vice-Chairperson Annette Ferguson by phone yesterday on the request for funds for a house-to-house registration were futile.
The PPP, in a statement in response to Aly, had said it did not support the PNCR’s call for new house-to-house registration, while stating that it preferred to contest the local and general elections with the existing voters’ list.
That position remains the same as Leader of the Opposition and PPP General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo told Sunday Stabroek yesterday that he was not sure that the decision to seek funding to start house-to-house registration had been made at the level of the commissioners.
“So, I am surprised that the Chief Election Officer has made a request for funding for an initiative that has not been decided at the level of the commission,” he said.
After the 2015 general elections, Jagdeo noted, the PPP had asked for house-to-house registration but was ignored.
However, in the last two cycles of continuous registration, he said, it was noted that supporters of A Partnership for National Unity had not been submitting themselves for registration as PPP supporters had been doing.
“It was a ratio of four to one and we believed APNU panicked, and Amna Ally called for house-to-house registration, knowing that if their supporters do not turn up voluntarily, they would have to do so if it was compulsory,” Jagdeo said.
“We believe that doing house-to-house registration at this late stage within the constitutional deadline for holding general elections could be used as a pretext for delaying the elections.”
He said a similar situation existed in 1990 “when the list was so flawed” that house-to-house registration was conducted and it was used to delay the elections to 1992.
The claim that house-to-house registration could be done in six months, Jagdeo said, was questionable. “It is opening the door for a process that is potentially fraudulent,” he charged.
He was fearful that enumerators would deliberately not go into PPP strongholds on the coastland or in hinterland and riverain areas and so deny them the right to vote.
With the current “machinery in place” at GECOM, he said, he was also fearful about the inputting of data and that the final list of voters would be significantly flawed.
He said the current voters’ list could be sanitised with the help of the General Register Office verifying and eliminating from the list all those who have died since the last elections were held.
The last house-to-house registration, in which persons 14 years and older were registered, was conducted in 2008. The list has since been updated through continuous registration cycles.
It has been noted that the current list includes people who have since died as was evident during the nominations of candidates for the current local government elections.