March 2020 is the earliest possible time for the holding of General and Regional Elections, according to several Commissioners at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) nominated by both sides of the political divide. They spoke to members of the media after yesterday’s statutory meeting of the Commission at the Secretariat’s Kingston headquarters.
Commissioner Robeson Benn said that that timeline is repeated in four separate proposals made by the Secretariat to the Commission. To be more specific, Commissioner Bibi Shadick said that the date being looked at is precisely one year and two days after the Constitutional date of March 21 – which is the three month timeframe stipulated by the Constitution in the case of the passing of a No Confidence Motion. That would be March 23, 2020.
It is important to note that no decision was made at yesterday’s meeting.
GECOM Chair, Justice Claudette Singh, during a brief interview yesterday, noted that no date has been decided on. It was emphasised that this date is simply the proposal which currently provides the earliest date for elections.
Commissioner Vincent Alexander told reporters that the Commissioners were widely able to come to some consensus on some of the timelines proposed, but stressed that the proposals are still currently under revision.
Attempts were made to crunch the numbers to determine whether the timeline could be shortened, according to Commissioner Charles Corbin, but he said it is only possible to reduce the timelines in those proposals by eight days.
There are many activities that are to be done within the period leading up to March next year, and even though some run concurrently, it’s not enough to allow GECOM to crunch the numbers enough. Alexander explained that there are certain statutory activities for which GECOM can’t make a determination on how long it should take. An example of that is the period that must span Nomination Day and Election Day.
The Opposition-nominated Commissioners – Shadick, Benn and Gunraj – are adamant that elections should be held this year.
“We are opposed to that situation.” Benn stated.
Asked whether it is possible for elections to be held this year, Alexander said that it would be a “hard call” to make. He explained that it would be extremely improbable.
Gunraj said that it would be better for elections to be held in November of this year.
“We are insisting that we accord with the Constitutional imperatives,” Benn added.
But for the November timeline to work, according to Benn, GECOM would have to roll back on its decision to use the data from House-to-House Registration.
“We advise that the House-to-House Registration is incomplete, it’s aborted.”
He said that some of the data from the exercise could still be used, but only in cases where new registrants are being added who have come of age to vote. Even then, he contends that that would not add many young people. Further additions of new registrants who have come of age would, he advised, come from a period of claims and objections “with the political parties as scrutineers”.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has made it a major point of contention that the data acquired from the recently suspended House-to-House exercise should be considered invalid, since it did not send scrutineers to participate.
But Corbin contends that a November date is an unrealistic timeline, and that there was no real discussion on how that timeline was arrived at.
“They don’t want to discuss it. They just want to say this November.”
He explained that the correct practice is to determine a date based on how activities align, instead of attempting to fit the preparatory activities into a timeline of choice.
Several things must be done before elections are held.
At present, the Secretariat is entering the data gotten from House-to-House into its database.
According to Shadick, of the 370,800+ registrants enumerators accumulated, the Secretariat has only scanned and input about 120,000 or so into its database. The House-to-House exercise was brought to a halt, one week ago.
“So we’re not even anywhere near to them inputting all that data that they collected. They input less than a third.”
After that, the Secretariat would have to have the cross-matching done. While there is no definitive decision at the level of the Commission on who will do it, Alexander said that there seems to be some amount of consensus on having it done by the previous service provider, Cogent Systems Inc.
He said that that could be done, subject to verification, in about 16 days.
According to GECOM, the merger of that data with the National Register of Registrants (NRR) would be followed by an extensive period of claims and objections, but the timeframe for that is unclear.
Otherwise, GECOM discussed the production of new identification (ID) cards, which are very different in configuration, material and design, from the cards currently in circulation.
Corbin, Alexander and Shadick all said that when that is done, the old ID cards would be decommissioned.
Shadick said the Commission has “kind of agreed” that GECOM should produce its own ID cards.
According to an Internal Memorandum (dated September 3, 2019), GECOM would procure its own card issuance system at a cost of US$495,000, inclusive of consulting and administration costs.
According to the document, it would take two weeks to acquire the equipment, three days to deploy and configure it, and about nine continuous days to produce 750,000 cards.
However, Alexander said that, in the interest of time, the Commission is considering printing only as much as is needed for the upcoming General and Regional Elections, for persons who would be over 18 years of age at a qualifying date.
The Opposition-nominated Commissioners appeared opposed to the production of ID cards, as they stressed that the process is not necessary at this time.
Alexander admitted that whether ID cards should be produced is a major matter of contention, but he maintains that it is a critical part of the exercise, as GECOM was granted funds specifically for the production of ID cards in the 2019 budget.
In any case, Corbin explained that the production of ID cards runs concurrent with the preparation process, and that the election date does not depend in any way on the production of ID cards.
It should be noted that it is not necessary for a voter to produce an ID card at a polling station in order to cast their vote.
“In other words, if you don’t produce ID cards, it doesn’t affect the date.” Corbin said.