GECOM ignores own legal opinion; Chairman received legal opinion before expiry of last list
By Bibi Khatoon
The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has no intention of abandoning the house to house registration exercise despite advice tendered by its own legal officer that the process is not needed to prepare a new voter’s list for elections.
“For all intents and purposes, we are not discussing the substance of that opinion at this time…the substance of the opinion, as described in the meeting, is in a sense, water under the bridge,” Government-nominated Commissioner Vincent Alexander told the media following the election body’s statutory meeting on Tuesday.
The three Government-nominated Commissioners insist there must be a new house to house registration exercise, and they are now questioning the process leading to the presentation of the advice from GECOM’s legal officer, Excellence Dazzell.
The Legal Officer presented her advice dated May 13, 2019, to Commissioners at a statutory meeting in which she declared that there is no need for house-to-house registration to create a new list of electors. Instead, she said the current list which expired at the end of April should be updated.
The opinion, which is addressed to the Chairman, Commissioners and Chief Election Officer of GECOM, referred to laws governing elections and explained that the process includes revision of the list by adding names of persons who may have become eligible for registration and deleting names of those who have ceased to be qualified.
She advised that procedures be put in place to ensure the “revision of the list, otherwise, the Commission would be acting in defiance of the law and may prejudice any by-election that may become necessary.”
“We have a problem with the fact that this opinion was lying around (and) apparently came at a conspicuous time to our attention,” Alexander said.
The advice was given to commissioners at last Tuesday’s (May 14, 2019) meeting of the Commission.
It was given at a time when a private citizen has filed an application in the High Court to block the house-to-house registration exercise. Also, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is preparing to rule in a matter which may necessitate early general and regional elections in Guyana.
The opinion was requested by Opposition nominated Commissioner Bibi Shadick months ago, however, Alexander confirmed that the Chairman of GECOM, Justice (ret’d) James Patterson received the document before April 30th when the last list of voters expired.
Opposition nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj contended that the document could have only been presented to Commissioners with approval from the Chairman.
“The Chairman has said that he has seen that opinion…at some time prior to the expiry of the list, sometime in April before April 30. He has acknowledged that he has received and perused that report prior…It is because of the acquiescence of the Chairman that that report was presented to the full Commission,” he noted.
The Opposition nominated Commissioners are against house-to-house registration.
In fact, Gunraj who is an Attorney-at-law said “the legal officer did not disclose anything new or anything groundbreaking or earth-shattering in her legal opinion. What the legal officer said is basically a recitation of what the law states.”
He noted that the GECOM secretariat seems hell-bent on doing house to house.