GECOM Chairman stalling on UN electoral aid offer – sources

James Patterson

The Guyana Elections Commission has seen no movement on the United Nations (UN) Needs Assessment Mission’s (NAM’s) recommendations for technical aid to GECOM since proposals were made public over a month ago.

“There is no movement. When there is you will be informed,” GECOM Chairman Justice (Retried) James Patterson told Stabroek News when asked for an update on the status of the report and the United Nations Development Programme’s offer to carry forward the NAM’s recommendations.

GECOM will discuss the issue with the commission, after which the outcome, Patterson said, “will be aired. Other than that, I have nothing to say to the press.”

A source told this newspapers that the issue of the NAM’s report had been raised at GECOM’s statutory meeting on a few occasions but without any movement.

At the August 7 statutory meeting of the commission, Patterson had announced that he had “indefinitely” cancelled a meeting, to review the NAM report with the UNDP, scheduled for 5.00 pm that same day.

The source said that Patterson raised the issue of the UNDP’s offer to move forward with the report at Tuesday’s statutory meeting of the commission but instead of bringing clarity he “appears to have muddied the waters instead.”

At first, the source said, “The chairman announced that he was bringing the engagement with the UNDP to an end. Later he was persuaded not to do so but to write a letter to the UNDP and engage with them as was previously requested by the Commissioners.”

The source quoted Patterson as saying he will communicate with the UNDP, “in the fullness of time.”

The source said some commissioners have expressed uncertainty about what the Chairman will do because he has suggested that if there is any engagement it should be after the November 12 Local Government Elections (LGEs). 

Asked about this development, a source close to GECOM told Stabroek News that some commissioners have their concerns with the “delay and procrastination by the chairman on the issues” but they will have to discuss that among themselves and based on their discussions, they may or may not issue a statement.

The source said that the commissioners are not in favour of the Chairman putting off any engagement with the UNDP until after the LGEs because that would be defeating the purpose of the assistance the commission was seeking for both the 2018 LGEs and for the 2019-2020 period in the run up to the general elections.                  

The NAM report had recommended that for the 2018 LGEs and the 2020 general elections, the UN must provide technical assistance to GECOM in a clear framework and the parameters, responsibilities and limitations need to be properly communicated to stakeholders and the public in general because of widespread mistrust among political actors across public institutions, “including GECOM.”

The NAM was conducted between May 7 and 11, 2018 at GECOM’s request for technical assistance in information and technology, to provide expertise in database and information management systems, including the transmission of elections results.

The report recommended that the UN should provide a coordination mechanism for members of the international community to ensure coherence and avoid duplication of any potential support to the 2018 Local Government Elections and the 2020 General Elections.

Noting that the UN should respond positively to GECOM’s request for UN technical assistance to aid in voter registration and the general elections process in 2019 and 2020, NAM said, priority areas of assistance should include database management, systems design, software development to improve the integrity of GECOM’s database, including voter registration and a solid results transmission system.

“Considering the current difficult political climate and potential security situation in Guyana,” the NAM said, “There are various possible risks to future electoral processes, primarily the non-acceptance by the losing party of the 2020 elections results.”

In its executive summary, the NAM said, GECOM has the capacity to organise the electoral processes in Guyana with minimal international support but the main point of concern remained the accuracy of the voters list, the system of tabulation, transmission and announcement of results which is considered too long by most stakeholders.

The NAM said it found that “all interlocutors have agreed that the country is undergoing tense political discourse dominated by the lack of trust between the two main political parties” and “the electoral processes, particularly the 2020 elections, will no doubt heighten underlying ethnic tensions.”

Throughout the electoral processes, the NAM said, the political situation should be closely monitored to assess the needs for further UN political engagement, primarily through the UN Resident Coordinator/United Nations Development Programme’s Resident Representative, Guyana.

The NAM noted that while UN electoral support was necessary to improve the technical aspect of the process, GECOM needs to engage in activities/initiatives, including effective communication with different electoral stakeholders in a regular and systematic manner and regular consultation with key stakeholders to ensure transparency at all stages of the process and to build trust and confidence in the electoral process.

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