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The lexicon of Good Governance includes Openness as an expression of the intended transparency in the decision-making processes. However, in the practice of governance in Guyana, Openness is being replaced by Opaqueness. The current case is the intended introduction of the multi-purpose/universal identification card (ID).
Under the stewardship of Dr. Steve Surujbally, as the chairperson of GECOM, the introduction of a multi-purpose ID card was contemplated. In the context of Good Governance/Openness that idea was brought to the attention of stakeholders, one of whom was the then Minister of Home Affairs, who rebuffed GECOM and literally told GECOM ‘to mind its own business’.
Subsequent attempts by GECOM to improve its identification system, by the introduction of electronic fingerprint identification, were opposed by the Government nominated GECOM Commissioners. The monies proposed by GECOM`s administration for the electronic capture of fingerprints in the registration process was voted down by the said commissioners and GECOM continues to manually, inefficiently and in many instances ineffectively capture fingerprints in its voter registration process.
Such a capture can only improve the quality of the fingerprints and consequently the outcome of cross-matching which detects attempts at the duplication of registration and serves as a deterrent to attempts at multiple voting. Also, the proposal to introduce electronic fingerprint identification at the place of poll was shot down on the spurious ground that it constitutes an impediment to a voter exercising his or her right to vote, a la Claudette Justice Singh`s decision in the case of Esther Pereira vs. the AG. It was however proffered that it could be used as an alternate form of identification, subject to a feasibility study. In effect, its use was not approved although the use of electronic fingerprint identification is now regarded as a standard operational procedure, worldwide.
We are now faced with a decision of the Government to introduce a multi-purpose ID card. The Government`s approach to this matter begs a number of questions.
- How is such a complex and intricate system acceptable to those who objected to GECOM simply procuring fingerprints using an electronic medium, unless a feasibility study is done? The capture of fingerprints electronically is now routine, tried and tested throughout the world and ironically is one of the intended means of capturing fingerprints for the envisaged new ID card.
- Much has been said about the wide-ranging use of the new ID card, including fingerprint identification, but GECOM which uses ID cards in the conduct of elections and has sought to introduce electronic fingerprint identification has not been consulted on the matter nor has mention been made of the intended use of the card by GECOM.
Are the cards intended to be imposed on GECOM or will there be parallel ID card systems? Why has the introduction of electronic fingerprint identification by GECOM been so vehemently opposed, although the new system will have such a feature? Is the introduction of the new system without any reference to GECOM the best use of the nation`s resources?
- Guyana has a legal authority that is responsible for national registration. Are we about to constitute another authority for that purpose? In most of Latin America and the Caribbean and even further afield, the national registration agency has been vested with the authority for producing, and regulating the use, of multi-purpose national ID cards; and
- The use of an ID card is integral to GECOM`s administration of a free and fair election yet modernising an area that has been of concern has not found itself on to the modernisation agenda or is it the intention to simply impose the new cards on GECOM, although GECOM has a constitutional mandate that should insulate it from such external impositions.
It should be noted that the recount of the 2020 election results threw up verified evidence of ballots cast for persons who ostensibly are holders of ID cards although they were not present to cast those ballots. This raises questions about the manner in which GECOM is being excluded from the process of implementing and/or using new ID cards that can facilitate electronic fingerprint identification.
My appeal is for openness in the implementation of any new ID card and the consequential adherence to the other elements of Good Governance, including inclusivity that will provide for a rationalised and mutual approach, and an acceptable output, to the implementation of a new national ID card.