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There is a lot of talk about constitutional reform. There is also talk about electoral reform. Way back in 2015, I recall that the British High Commissioner to Guyana told a forum that elections reform should begin immediately. The forum was the one where the Guyana Elections Commission declared the elections results. The view was that while five years may look like a long time, it wasn’t. Indeed, those five years have come and gone and a further two years have passed. There has been no reform.
When President Jimmy Carter came to make modifications before the 1992 elections, he proposed a formula for the Guyana Elections Commission. The formula was that there be three members from the government, three from the opposition and one member selected by the president from a list provided by the Leader of the Opposition. That formula was intended to be used only for the 1992 elections. It is still being used more than thirty years later. Many in civil society are condemning this formula on the ground that it politicises the elections commission. There seems to be no move to change it.
This has affected the preparation of the voters’ list. The major political parties at one time or the other, have all called for the voters’ list to be sanitised. There has been continuous registration. Names are being added. However, the snag is that GECOM cannot remove names of people who have migrated. The High Court has so ruled. The result is that even the names of people who have died cannot be readily removed from the list. For this to happen, relatives of dead people must provide GECOM with a copy of the death certificate. An elector cannot do so without providing proof of death.
After the 2015 elections the PPP asked that a new voters’ list be provided. In the run up to the 2020 elections the Coalition government sought to fashion a new list by way of house-to-house registration. This exercise got started but was halted because of a number of factors, one of them being that it was being initiated after the vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly.
Then GECOM decided on a strange move. It opted to add the names from the partially completed house to house registration to the existing voters’ list. Guyana now has a severely bloated voters’ list. And the political opposition is calling for a sanitised voters’ list. They also want biometrics to avoid identity fraud. The last elections were said to have been full of identity fraud. People who were outside the country and never returned actually voted. Guyana no longer has overseas voting. It was the same with some of the people whose names were on the voters’ list. They were found to have died.
From this vantage point, it looks as if the list will remain bloated. The government is not inclined to allow house-to-house registration. There are laws that should prohibit voter fraud, but these laws seem to be on hold. Some years ago, the Guyana Elections Commission headed by Dr Steve Surujbally stated that anyone found registering twice for nefarious purposes would face jail time. Indeed, GECOM found at least 50 cases of multiple registration. These cases were forwarded to the police but that was the end of the matter.
More recently, there were accusations that some of the migrants were being presented with Guyana passports and so become eligible to register to vote in the elections. For the records, the General Registrar’s Office is reporting that the only people being granted birth certificates are those whose parents were born in Guyana. The applicant has to provide the proof of his parents’ birth before he can be duly registered. Not much is being said about this at the moment.
But there are other serious things happening.
Video recordings suggest that a blemish is being placed on the diplomatic services. Charrandass Persaud, the member of the Coalition who voted against the government in the no-confidence vote to cause it to fall, was duly appointed a High Commissioner by the government. That was ample pay for his yeoman service. Now he is accused of abusing a woman in India. This has caused a woman identified as Sonya Ghosh, to file a criminal complaint against Charrandass Persaud. A copy of the complaint has been sent to Deputy Commissioner of Police (South-West), P.S. Vasant Vihar, in New Delhi, and to Member of Parliament Shrimati Maneka Gandhi, in New Delhi.
The video recording shows Charrandass Persaud, Guyana’s High Commissioner to India, using vile language to the woman. The woman is contending that Guyana and India do not have a bilateral agreement that precludes the Indian police from arresting Charrandass Persaud. This is the worst incident in Guyana’s diplomatic history.
There has been a Member of Parliament who was arrested in the United States having flown from Guyana with narcotics. His termination from the House was immediate. Desmond Hoyte was the President.
Since that incident there have been other untoward incidents involving Members of Parliament. One of them sent a photograph of his private parts to a very young woman living in the United States. Her mother made this public and sought redress from the government. None was forthcoming. The Member of Parliament, a government minister, continues as though nothing happened. There was another incident of a Member of Parliament publicly threatening to slap a woman. Nothing happened. These do not detract from the fact that Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo has been accused of bribe taking. Now we have this diplomatic incident. Don’t expect a recall.