Address to the Nation Mr. Robert H O Corbin MP, Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform and Leader of the Opposition February 14, 2006



FELLOW GUYANESE: On the 2nd September, 2005, I addressed the Nation about the state of preparations for the holding of elections and the delays by the Guyana Elections Commission in both decision making and positive action, especially the commencement of the Continuous Registration process.

Tonight, more than five months later, I have to report that many of the troubling issues that concerned the parliamentary opposition parties then, remain the same.

The inescapable conclusion is that GECOM either has total contempt for the Opposition Parties or that deliberate attempts are being made to frustrate the process to ensure that problems which attended previous elections in Guyana are repeated, to the detriment of the people of Guyana.

This cannot be allowed to happen.

Consequently, in keeping with my constitutional responsibility as Leader of the Opposition, I feel it is my duty to provide an update on these matters so that no one, including the donors that are providing most of the resources to aid free and fair elections in Guyana, will be in a position to claim that they were unaware of this grave situation.

For almost ten generations of voters, elections in Guyana have been the subject of controversy. The bases of those controversies have ranged from a flawed electoral system and its mal-administration to allegations of irregularities and fraud. The consequences of those controversies have taken their toll on the people of Guyana, in so much that it is felt that Guyana as a nation will only have a new lease on life if electoral controversies are eliminated and the country is given the post electoral breeding space to address the serious developmental issues which we all face.

The PNCR recognizes our electoral history; shares the concerns about our future and has restated its commitment to create an enabling environment for national development.

It is against this background that I believe all Guyanese should take note of current developments, particularly the alleged assurances given by the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Dr. Steve Surujbally, to the Private Sector Commission. These discussions were well publicized in the Daily newspapers last week, and the conclusion was that all is well and the preparations are on schedule for the 2006 Elections.

The information available to the Parliamentary Opposition Parties and me, indicates that this is far from the truth. More disturbing is the misinformation given by the Chairman that the Elections Commission has decided that House to House verification of the 2001 Voters List is not an option.

This statement has not been altered despite the fact that the Private Sector Commission clarified their release to the media on their meeting with the GECOM Chairman. Mr. Surujbally has been uncharacteristically silent on this matter, even though the misinformation was published several days ago. That it took three other Commissioners to clarify the situation for the Guyanese public is instructive. However, this does not change the fact that the Chairman of the Elections Commission has pronounced definitively on a matter that is still under consideration by GECOM.

What inferences must the Parliamentary Opposition Parties and the Guyanese public draw from the Statement made by Mr. Surujbally?

In my September 2nd 2005, address I emphasized that the Peoples National Congress Reform is committed to the holding of, and participation in General and Regional Elections in Guyana as soon as possible. Our only demand was that our Constitution and Electoral Laws should be strictly observed. I expressed the hope that after the next election there would be ONE vital winner, GUYANA. For this objective to be achieved, however, there was an urgent need to resolve, without delay, a number of outstanding issues. Among the matters of concern, which I pointed out at that time were:

- the unexplained delay of the commencement of the new continuous Registration Exercise;
- the absence of information about the method by which the Official List of Electors was to be verified as provided for in the National Registration (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2005; and
- the absence of information about how the data-base of New Registrants (those attaining the age of seventeen years) would be created and maintained, including photographs and fingerprinting as required by Law;

I also pointed to the fact that it was evident that GECOM was experiencing many difficulties and urged that those difficulties should not be swept under a carpet, but identified and addressed.

I reminded the Nation that the PNCR had made several compromises in the interest of the Nation and I now list some of them:

- Instead of a complete new House to House Registration, we agreed to the use of a House to House verified version of the 2001 Official List of Electors, OLE, and its several addenda, as the starting point for the New National Register of Registrants, NRR, under the new continuous registration system. We felt that this would ensure an acceptable list of Electors for the 2006 elections;

- Instead of insisting that the old database be scrapped, we agreed that the integrity of the data-base would be ensured by if the security, technical and other applications recommended in several recent reports, were implemented, provided, of course, that certain monitoring mechanisms were put in place;

- We also agreed that GECOM should pursue a most urgent determination of the feasibility of live-scan fingerprinting, AFIS, or biometrics, to use its technical term.

My concern then was that there had been no implementation of any of these compromises. I urged that GECOM should be made to account to the nation THEN; not later when further problems arose. It is obvious that no one in Authority took us seriously.

Fellow Guyanese,

On September 2nd 2005, I also expressed my worst fears. I wish to repeat what I said then:
“The inescapable conclusion is that there are deliberate efforts being made to frustrate the call of the Opposition Parties for the use of live scan fingerprinting, biometrics, and the conduct of house to house verification of the OLE by the creation of extended delays to justify the argument that there is not enough time.”

I stated categorically then that there could be no compromise on matters of such fundamental importance.

Notwithstanding those concerns, I appealed to GECOM, its Commissioners and its Secretariat to be open with us and share their difficulties so that we could all work together to ensure that Guyana wins this time around.

FELLOW GUYANESE,

The life of the Parliament must come to an end on May 3, 2006. That means there are only 78 days left for any Legislation to be passed to deal with any difficulties which GECOM may now be facing. Therefore, Elections must constitutionally be held before August 4th 2006. That means that there are 171 days left for all arrangements to be satisfactorily completed. In such circumstances we cannot as a Nation be subjected to misinformation on important matters that could have far reaching effects on progress in our country. We, therefore, view the statement by the Chairman of the Elections Commission, that all schedules are being met, as totally irresponsible and dangerous.

What then are the facts?

Firstly, there has been absolutely no change in the situation since I spoke to the Nation on September 2nd, 2005, with respect to the method by which the 2001 Official List of Electors is to be verified, as provided for in the National Registration (Amendment) Act.

Secondly, there is still the absence of information about how the data-base of New Registrants (those attaining the age of seventeen years) would be created and maintained, including photographs and fingerprinting, as required by Law;

Thirdly, the acceptance by GECOM that there will be electronic scanning of fingerprints to check on double or multiple registrations has not been accompanied by any action to ensure speedy implementation. The proposal by the Elections Office of Jamaica, (EOJ), to undertake this task was sent to GECOM since November 2005. However, to date a contract has not been signed. Consequently, the scanning of fingerprints is still in the realm of rhetoric.

Fourthly, the Continuous Registration exercise, which commenced some two months after the scheduled date, is plagued with shortcomings such as,
- The inadequacy of Registration Centres and the immense difficulties faced by several eligible registrants to travel to these centers;
- The unsatisfactory public information/education programme that fails to give information to the public on the exact location of the limited Registration Centers, but requires citizens to call a hot line to get information;
- The administrative difficulties faced by the staff of GECOM in undertaking their tasks because of, inter alia, the unavailability of funds or undue delay in obtaining funds. A situation publicly acknowledged by some commissioners yesterday.

I wish to emphasize that these difficulties are no figment of my imagination. I have traveled all over Guyana and have heard from the citizens of the difficulties they have been encountering. Only last week end I traveled through the flood hit Mahaica Creek to areas such as Biaboo and Grass Hook. I was unable to provide those residents with useful advise as to how they could be registered, other than traveling miles down the river to Mahaica and then further along the East Coast to the Coldingen Registration Center, at extreme cost, both in money and time.

I have been to Buxton where several young men have expressed concern about travelling through neighboring villages to Coldingen, since there is fear that they may be unjustly arrested, as they have seen done to others. The alternative for them is to pay to travel by public transport at a time when they lack resources because of their unemployment status.

All parties, including the PPP, have expressed their concerns in writing to GECOM about their dissatisfaction with the arrangements for Continuous Registration, but the response from GECOM has been lackluster and, at best, condescending. Indeed, the impression is being conveyed that GECOM is doing us all a favor rather than discharging a constitutional obligation.

If in the face of these circumstances Dr. Surujbally could be under the illusion that all is well then there are serious problems ahead for all of us.

The most important aspect of any Election is the Voters List. If at this late stage there are still decisions to be made by GECOM on how to compile this List of Electors in accordance with the law, then it is mind-boggling how the Chairman of the Elections Commission could assume that all arrangements are on schedule.

We have repeatedly explained why verification of the 2001 List of Electors is essential. The requirement is now a legal obligation of GECOM and not a concession. Everyone knows that this is a compromise position agreed to in the interest of all Guyana. Consequently, we will not accept the bad faith which now appears to be rearing its head at GECOM and I feel obliged to place the Nation on Notice. We will not accept any shortcuts which will affect the integrity of the Voters List that has been a continuous source of controversy.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed by GECOM, the Government of Guyana and the Donor Community specifies that:

The Elections must be held according to internationally acceptable standards and that all Guyanese should have confidence in the process.

WE believe that the people of Guyana should accept nothing less.

Fellow Guyanese,

I have discharged my constitutional responsibility by informing you that there are unresolved matters which are likely to jeopardize the holding of Elections in accordance with the Constitution. It is regrettable that my advice, given since September 2nd 2005, has been ignored. I do not wish to alarm you, but it is my duty to state the facts, especially when there are attempts being made to mislead the Nation.

Fellow Guyanese,

It is my sincere hope that good sense will prevail and that we will all put Guyana first in our future endeavors.

May God bless our dear Nation!
GOOD NIGHT