The final processing of the nomination lists for candidates and the backers of lists for candidates at the upcoming Local Government Elections is being compromised as people who wish to have their names withdrawn from the lists cannot do so as agreed to by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) says Commissioner, Robeson Benn.
“Somehow wittingly or unwittingly and with GECOM’s connivance – might not be the best word – (the process) is allowing for persons who never wanted their names to be on a list or certain lists that they could not have a situation where their names could be withdrawn, “Benn said.
Benn yesterday told the media in the GECOM Kingston compound that at Tuesday’s statutory meeting of GECOM it was agreed that if a person wished to have his name withdrawn from the list, that person could appear in person with a letter and his national identification card before the returning officer (RO). Otherwise the head of the list along with the deputy could appear with a sworn affidavit to have the names of the persons who do not want to be on the lists, because somehow their names were found on the lists unbeknownst to them, to have the names withdrawn.
Benn said that the Opposition-nominated commissioners have reports from Crabwood Creek, Corriverton, Number 51 Village, Good Hope, Whim/Bloomfield and Number 63 in Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) and in Region Three (West Demerara/Essequibo islands) from La Grange, La Jalousie, and the Canals Polder in respect of people being unable to withdraw their names because ROs have not followed the agreed process.
“These are not all of the areas. These are some,” he said.
The ROs were refusing to accept the affidavits, he said, and were demanding that the persons listed on the affidavits, appear with the affidavits along with the head of the list and the deputy head of the list.
“That is not what was agreed to. That is not the result of the discussion of the statutory meeting (Tuesday) at GECOM with all commissioners present and also the CEO (Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield),” he said. GECOM has made no public statement on this matter despite its importance and the fact that lists were submitted since Friday.
For three hours yesterday, Benn said, he and fellow opposition-appointed commissioners, Bibi Shadick and Sase Gunraj were trying to contact the CEO but to no avail. “He seems to have disappeared. He is not answering any phone.”
He contacted the Deputy CEO Roxanne Myers, he said, who explained her understanding of the process and was “unwilling to do anything about it until she gets an instruction from the CEO himself, who I have said, has strangely disappeared at this critical time of the process.”
Myers advised, Benn said, “that the instructions given was that there was a requirement that the persons listed on the affidavits had to appear with the head of the lists and the deputy head of the lists. The clarification she gave, he said, “was not the agreement.”
Claiming it was “an unfair and unhappy occurrence that this should be happening at this time, at almost the eleventh hour,” he said, not able to withdraw one’s name could put people in a compromising position with respect to who they want to back and the list/lists may ultimately not represent the wishes of the nominators or the people in the area.
Disappointed, he said, they were appealing to those responsible to instruct the ROs to follow the agreement which was arrived at, at the statutory meeting.
Beyond 23.59 hours last night, he said, “nothing could be done. It is the drop dead minute.”
Nevertheless, he said, how many areas were affected, its impact on how many people should be on the lists or if they should not be and what could be done will be assessed.
“We would have to get the lawyers and others to look at it. The technical people would have to advise us specifically what it means in terms of it,” he said.
Apart from not being able to have their names removed and have them placed on lists in a proper manner, Benn said, the commissioners received reports of intimidation in relation to going individually with a letter or to appear in person before the ROs to have their names removed from the lists.
These complaints, he said, were raised at the GECOM statutory meeting.
“We, meaning the PPP-nominated commissioners, are aware of complaints and many were discussed yesterday at the statutory meeting again in respect of infractions, misunderstandings, problems in terms of what happened on Nomination Day.”
When he went to investigate threats in Mocha, Benn said, a sergeant and a corporal of the Guyana Police Force were taking down the names of people who were appearing to give their names to the returning officers.
“I had to intervene and say that was none of their business. It was a matter for the ROs. As far as I am aware, and I know people are working on lists of complaints and issues which they should bring to us to have resolved one way or the other. There are many complaints in respect of the issues. In spite of all the training which has been done, the performance of the staffers on Nomination Day itself and even now for the affidavit listings for withdrawal of names, has to be improved,” he said.