Thus far, the government has offered two reasons why the call by GECOM and opposition parties for a new ID card for upcoming elections would not be acceded to.
Presidential Advisor on Governance Ms Gail Teixeira in a letter to GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally said that a new ID card had not been catered for in the political agreements that had been signed paving the way for a new house-to-house registration exercise and related matters. She also underlined the point by stating that she was not seeking justification for an intervention for new ID cards but sought substantiation in writing that the issue was a decision taken by the GECOM commissioners.
Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon also presented another argument at his press briefing last week. He said that the government is prepared to fund a multi-purpose card for the 2011 general elections but is not willing to finance a card that would be used just every five years. He added that the multi-purpose card would be able to satisfy the requirements of two to three agencies such as GECOM, the Guyana Revenue Authority and the National Insurance Scheme. He also emphasized that there had been no agreement among the parties on a new card and that GECOM could produce a card for its own use.
That there was no specific mention of the need for a new ID card is an indictment of all who affixed their signatures to the agreement among political parties, particularly the opposition parties, whose entrenched interest would be making certain that all possible measures are in place to ensure that the electorate is confident about elections and all loopholes for fraud are closed. Signing an agreement and later arguing that an important consideration is implicit or inherent is shaky ground in the prosecution of a case.
Nevertheless, for Ms Teixeira and Dr Luncheon to punctiliously hold that the new cards would not be produced because it was simply not contained in the agreement is a bit too much. Considering their direct connections with the years of opposition struggle for electoral reforms and the spurious objections that were presented by the then administration it may seem to the interested observer that we have come full circle.
Of all governments, this government should be sensitive to concerns – as baseless as they tend to be sometimes – about fair, transparent and unimpeachable procedures for elections. To imperiously dismiss the call by the opposition parties and the elections commission itself for a new ID card on the grounds that it was not inscribed in an agreement is callous.
The argument by Dr Luncheon about a multi-purpose card has greater validity. But it is another example of how this government does things in a disorganized and confused manner.
Where major reforms of the electoral process are concerned, this newspaper’s preference would have been to start with a major shake-up of GECOM itself. Populating GECOM with the appointees of political parties and with a chairman chosen in the same manner is unacceptable and antediluvian 15 years after the return of democracy. Running an election should not be about scoring political points or seeking political advantage. It should be about efficiency, transparency and accuracy and should be run by technocrats and persons who enjoy the confidence of all sections of society.
The government and the main opposition did not have the appetite for such sweeping reforms and were intent on conserving their status on the commission. Having originally balked at the idea of a fresh house-to-house enumeration exercise, the government was eventually convinced by donor nations and others that this was the best course to adopt. Now that it has decided this and recognizing the importance of a clean slate in starting continuous registration, it must have also dawned on the government that in tandem with a new register there would also be need for the production of new ID cards and possibly more biometric information. The government should then have factored in the multi-purpose card that Dr Luncheon spoke about last week.
A new ID card with recognizable features of the voter is another means of assuring the public that safeguards are in place and that no person can easily vote in the place of an eligible voter. Considering the age of the present cards and the quality of some of the images, this would have been the perfect opportunity to synchronise everything: new house-to-house enumeration, new continuous registration, new cards, new list, new claims and objections forms etc.
The pre-1992 rigging of polls and challenges to elections thereafter have created a national complex about the security of elections. The government must recognize this and spare no effort to satisfy the electorate.