GE­COM bud­get pro­posal seeks fund­ing for new house-to-house voter reg­is­tra­tion

-Jagdeo warns of po­ten­tial to de­lay polls

Stabroek News Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Bhar­rat Jagdeo

Keith Lowen­field

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