The Private Sector Commission (PSC) has written a letter to the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission, Keith Lowenfield demanding that the Commission “immediately” suspend the House to House registration exercise until a new Chairman is appointed.
“The Private Sector Commission calls upon GECOM to immediately suspend the house to house registration exercise until a Chairperson of GECOM has been named and can inclusively and respectfully decide the best way forward,” the letter addressed to the CEO and signed by Chair of the PSC, Captain Gerald Gouveia stated.
Gouveia noted that the body has asked several times to meet with Mr. Lowenfield but those attempts have been futile.
He noted that based on legal advice sought, GECOM cannot legally undertake this exercise without a Chairman in place.
“We have sought legal advice on this matter and it is our understanding that you have not been legally directed by the Commission to proceed as you are doing and that to conduct house to house registration is unlawful,” the letter stated.
The Commission is made up of the Chair, three Commissioners nominated by the Opposition and three nominated by the Government. The Commission has not met since the former Chair, Justice Retired James Patterson demitted office on June 24 after the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that his appointment was flawed.
The President and Opposition Leader are currently engaged in a process to select the new Chair.
See full letter below:
Dear Mr. Lowenfield,
We have asked several times for a meeting with you. We write now as a result of GECOM having officially announced the commencement of house to house registration as of 20th July, 2019. We have sought legal advice on this matter and it is our understanding that you have not been legally directed by the Commission to proceed as you are doing and that to conduct house to house registration is unlawful.
We have also noted that GECOM’s Internal Counsel has advised that GECOM would be in contempt of the ruling of the CCJ to carry out any instruction in this regard from former Chairman, James Patterson, whose appointment by the President has been ruled to be flawed.
You must also be aware that you are also taking this approach when there is a clear Constitutional requirement to hold elections within three months of the validation of the No Confidence Motion. The effect of GECOM’s action on electoral democracy and broader democratic governance cannot be lost on you.
We wish to remind you that the Private Sector Commission has been an accredited elections observer since 2001. We have met and closely followed GECOM’s decision and activities all these years, meeting with Chairpersons and CEOs of GECOM, including yourself and former-Chairman Patterson.
You will be aware of the fact that the PSC participated in the consultations involving civil society, political parties and the international community in 2008 to undertake house to house registration for the establishment of the current National Register of Registrants Database (NRRD). The decision to conduct house to house registration was inclusive and respectful of all national actors and the subsequent exercise involved full involvement of Political Parties’ scrutineers in house to house visits.
There has been, in this instance, a total absence of consultation with the political parties’ scrutineers and, therefore, political parties scrutiny of the exercise of registration you have now presumed to conduct, essential to establishing a credible NRRD. We cannot have a credible database if these elements are completely absent from the current house to house exercise you are embarking on.
GECOM’s present conduct is a complete break from its history of inclusivity and respectful engagement with all the relevant stakeholders. GECOM is failing to meet its duty to communicate, provide facts and justify its actions to the public. You must be aware that undertaking house to house registration without proper consultation and ventilation of the alternative approaches with stakeholders undermines your credibility and trustworthiness as an elections agency and your credibility and trustworthiness as Chief Elections Officer.
Quite apart from the fact that, as we have pointed out, you are proceeding to conduct this registration unilaterally, unlawfully and in contempt of the fact that GECOM is without a Chairman and is not meeting as a Commission, we know that GECOM has not conducted a field test of the existing NRRD.
GECOM is not, therefore, in a position to state with credibility that some 200,000 entries on the NRRD do not belong there. This advice to the President begs the question not only of why would anyone tell the President that, but also why would a register under your custody since the 2015 elections, one that gave us a credible election in 2015 and has gone through cycles of continuous registration, have suddenly become so corrupted.
We must remind you of your statement to observers in 2015 when the size of the voters’ list was 570,787. Asked about this list size you said GECOM had opened more registration centers and was more efficient at registering persons, many of whom were also able to get birth certificates and requisite documents to register.
GECOM, at that time, admitted to a lag in removing deceased persons and those who migrated permanently, but you personally assured us, and we know this to be true from our experience, that the procedures for voting, with the presence of Political Parties’ scrutineers etc. made it practically impossible for anyone to double vote or vote as an imposter.
You confirmed that GECOM staff and parties’ scrutineers are given folios at every polling station with particulars of voters registered at that station, including photographs. Thus, while it was ideal to keep the register scrubbed, you were not concerned then that the size of the list would undermine a free and fair election.
Indeed, the 2015 election with a voters’ list of 570,787 electors and 412,012 valid votes cast gave us credible National and Regional Elections. In 2018, the voters list of 573,923 that was generated from our continuously updated NRRD also gave us a credible Local Government Election. You nor anyone else expressed concerns about a bloated list and credibility of an election on the basis of the list size relative to our population as recorded in the 2012 national census.
We have had two voters’ list above 500,000 that gave us two credible elections. Now you are attempting to reason that a list of similar size cannot give us a credible election and that the only remedy is the most extreme of options – house to house registration to create a brand new NRRD. You have ignored the fact that the existing NRRD has been continuously maintained and has not expired. You have, instead, inexplicably, discounted the reasonable statutory option of Claims and Objections for an election to bring the register up to date for Constitutionally due elections.
You are also aware of the policy decision taken for cycles of continuous registration, which include claims and objections periods would be undertaken to update and maintain the database so that it would be in a condition to produce a voters’ list whenever necessary.
In fact, evidence will show that GECOM took the policy decision for cycles of registration specifically because it wanted to be in a position to hold elections at any time. Ten continuous registration exercises were carried out since 2008. In 2018 you carried out the 10th Continuous Registration and Claims and Objections period prior to the Local Government Elections in 2018. In 2017, the ninth ‘claims and objections’ was carried out in a non-election year. GECOM has been continuously refreshing the NRRD, which does not expire.
You have not professionally justified this attempt at this extreme and dangerous action you have taken. The exclusive and non-transparent way you are going about it will not produce a credible NRRD. In fact, experience shows that such an exercise would take far more than the three months you have scheduled to properly include registrants.
In 2008 the whole process took one year, with six months of registration followed by finger print cross checks etc., before ID cards could be issued. You are undertaking it during school holidays and the wet season, additional factors that will present challenges.
Undertaking a complete revamp of the NRRD in such a relatively short span of time before an election will more than likely disenfranchise voters, particularly domestic migrant workers, persons abroad for medical, school and other reasons. Evidence and experience indicate that you are not going to be able to create a credible voters’ list within a year by scrapping the existing NRRD and creating a new one.
The laws were amended in 2005 to introduce a continuous cyclical registration process using the data base created in the 2001 House to House Registration as the base. House to House Registration is the very antithesis of continuous Registration. They cannot coexist .To break the cycle and discard the data base is therefore clearly illegal. Names can only be removed from the National Register in accordance with the Act, for example by death, insanity etc.
In 2008 when it was decided to conduct another House to House Registration after the 2005 Amendment, the law was amended in 2007 to permit that exercise. It could not have been lawfully done without that amendment.
The Private Sector Commission calls upon GECOM to immediately suspend the house to house registration exercise until a Chairperson of GECOM has been named and can inclusively and respectfully decide the best way forward.
It is the responsibility of GECOM and the government to canvass the positions of all the political parties for a decision that is in the best interest of the country. The ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice must be respected.
In the meantime, we call on you as Chief Elections Officer to discharge your duty professionally and objectively and provide information to the public to correct misinformation about the voters list and voting process.
Our country’s commitment to democratic principles, respect for the rule of law and free and fair elections must rest on a truly independent electoral agency. GECOM’s conduct at this moment in our history will be consequentially long into our future. Every employee of GECOM must withstand public scrutiny regarding their impartiality. We trust you understand that this is being closely monitored in the public interest.
Capt. Gerald Gouveia Chairman
CC: To the Media.