PRESS STATEMENT By The People’s National Congress Reform To The Press Conference, Thursday, January 13, 2005 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia




SUMMARY:
• The PNCR hopes for Guyana in 2005;
• The PNCR supports a national house-to–house verification exercise to produce a new database of registrants;
• The PNCR’S proposal for the creation of a new NRR Database;
• Government Operationalises Procurement Legislation in breach Of trust;
• ANNOUNCEMENT: Funeral arrangements for late Party Chairman, Robert Jordan on Friday, January14, 2005;

PNCR’S HOPES FOR GUYANA IN 2005

At its last Press Conference the People's National Congress Reform (PNCR) presented a review of the year 2004 in the economic sphere. That review was unflattering. We therefore look forward to the presentation of the 2005 budget, which we understand is to be presented shortly, in the hope that there will be a clearly identified menu of measures and policies that would bring forth positive responses from all factors of production, in particular labour and capital, which would help lift the economy out of its present morass.

We shall use the opportunity of the budget to discuss forthrightly our economic condition, the government’s proposals and our perspectives on what is required for economic growth and development. We hope that this time around the government will have the courage to take our proposals on board in the national interest.

The PNCR further believes that positive things can happen for Guyana in 2005 only if all stakeholders, including the government, contribute to the creation of confidence and hope in the Guyanese people by visibly demonstrating that we are all committed to the development of our people and to the overall development of Guyana.

The most obvious area in which the government can boost confidence and hope is by implementing previous commitments made. This is with specific reference to the dialogue/ constructive engagement process which, we would like to believe, was conducted in good faith on both sides.


We wish at this time to once again catalogue some of the areas of agreement which await deliverance:
1. Radio Monopoly and Non Partisan Boards
2. Equitable access to the State Media
3. Broadcasting Legislation
4. Local Government Constitution Reform
5. Region 10 Development Agenda
6. Review of “Crossing the Floor” and “Election Commission” Legislation
7. Review of Procurement Act.
8. Establishment of the Constitutional Office of the Leader of the Opposition.

Beyond that the PNCR has made proposals for the enhancement of the constructive engagement process by the inclusion therein of the other parliamentary parties and civil society organizations.

We made the proposals for two deep-seated reasons:

First, the challenges confronting Guyana require the full involvement of all stakeholders, through their representatives. We believe this gives us the best chance of fashioning a way forward that has the broadest possible support among those directly affected. This approach will also give meaning and life to Article 13 of the Constitution of Guyana, which states as follows:

“The principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens and their organizations in the management and decision making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision making that directly affect their well-being.”

Second, the presence and voice of other stakeholders will leave little, or no, room for disputation as to what was agreed during engagements.

It is still not too late for the Government to embrace this approach.

In a letter dated January 5, 2005, the General Secretary of the PNCR reminded Dr. Luncheon that:
“Mr. Corbin has advised that he remains committed to meeting with President Jagdeo to discuss the way forward for Guyana and he expects that such a meeting will be facilitated, not by a media blitz, but, after responsible preparatory discussions at an appropriate level to settle the modalities.”

In that same letter, Messrs James Mc Allister, MP and Jerome Khan, MP, both Central Executive Committee Members of the PNCR were named to represent the PNCR in such “responsible preparatory discussions.”

We earnestly hope that the PPP/C will facilitate movement in a positive direction.

Another area in which we hope for positive developments in 2005 is that of a new model of governance.

It may be opportune to recall that the only outstanding item on the previously agreed agenda for constructive engagement is inclusive governance.

It is the PNCR’s considered view that there could be no more appropriate topic to put as the first item in a framework of an expanded constructive engagement forum. We look forward, in the national interest, to an open and frank engagement on this matter in 2005. The papers already placed in the public domain by the PPP/C and the PNCR could form the basis for the engagement.

Finally, in 2005, we must work together with all stakeholders, including the government, to take the necessary decisions, in a prompt manner, to ensure a framework and an environment for truly free and fair elections by the constitutionally due date.

THE PNCR SUPPORTS A NATIONAL HOUSE-TO–HOUSE VERIFICATION EXERCISE TO PRODUCE A NEW DATABASE OF REGISTRANTS

The PNCR believes it is important for the public to fully understand the issues involved in the preparations for the next general election. As the public would be aware, the PNCR has taken particular positions on these issues –- issues such as, (i) the use of the current National Register of Registrants, NRR, database (more commonly referred to as “the database”), (ii) the use of fingerprint biometrics, (iii) the introduction of continuous registration, (iv) the security of GECOM’s computer and other operations, and (v) the production of ID cards. Only a satisfactory resolution of these issues can restore confidence in Guyana’s electoral process. The PNCR is convinced that its position on these and other aspects of the election preparation process are principled, well-reasoned and are in the best interests of the country.

At today’s press conference, we intend to make clear the PNCR’s proposal on creating a new national register of registrants (NRR) or, as it is also more popularly known, a new database. But first, we must know a few things about the current database.

• The current NRR database was created through a national house-to-house registration exercise in 1996/97. In that exercise, Guyanese over the age of 14 years were registered. Their names, dates of birth, addresses and other information were stored at GECOM in computers as a database.
• Producing and managing a computer database for elections demand a highly organized, secure, and professional environment. Procedures and systems must be in place to ensure the database is accurate, internally consistent, secure, tamper-proof and of a high technical and technological standard.
• For the 1997 and 2001 elections, this database of registrants was used to produce a list of eligible voters. The voters list, therefore, is a creature of the NRR database. Simultaneously, a separate system, which was supposed to work in sync with the database operations, was used to produce ID cards
• Both the 1997 and 2001 elections showed that GECOM computer operations were prone to many inaccuracies and mysteries, were not secure and tamper-proof, were poorly managed, and were poorly designed technically. So, for example: (i) in the 2001 election, numerous voters discovered that their addresses had been changed or their names were dropped from the list; (ii) there were serious security failures at three levels: physical (preventing unauthorized persons entering the GECOM building and its nerve centres); electronic (preventing persons from hacking into the computer network); and administrative (ensuring detailed operational procedures for such things as password policy, audit trails policy, and internet connectivity policy were established and complied with); (iii) the audit report of the 2001 election tells us that the database contains 255 persons with the same surname and first name and, incredibly enough, same birthdates! And that the most frequent birthday in Guyana is January 1st (appearing 5,378 times on the register). But the next highest occurs only 1,870 times; and (iv) recent attempts to produce ID cards showed the ease with which multiple cards could be produced for the same person.
• The database (the NRR), which, as mentioned earlier, was created in 1996/97, would now contain a significant number of persons who over the past years would have died or migrated. Alarmingly enough, even the 99,000 names that were deleted from the voters list after the 2001 photographic exercise still remain in the NRR database.
For these and other reasons, the current NRR database is a highly inadequate basis to extract a voters list for the next election.
THE PNCR’S PROPOSAL FOR THE CREATION OF NEW NRR DATABASE
A new database of registrants must be created. The database must meet acceptable standards of reliability, accuracy and security. It must inspire confidence in political stakeholders and the general public. GECOM’s entire election preparation efforts must, in fact, meet these standards.
How does the PNCR propose that a new database be created? In general terms, we hold to the position that:
1. The existing NRR database should be used to produce a Provisional Voters List (PVL).
2. GECOM should then conduct a national house-to-house exercise to:
• confirm, through direct interaction, the physical existence of registrants on the PVL.
• verify the information of persons whose physical existence would have been confirmed.
• provide an opportunity for correction or change of information on persons who are physically present and require such corrections or changes.
• provide an opportunity for the registration of those who are eligible but are not on the current NRR (new registrants). This should include persons who would have come of voting age.
3. On completion of the house-to-house exercise, registration centres should be established for a specified period for the registration/verification of persons who were not captured in the house-to-house exercise.
4. All data collected during the house-to-house exercise must be channeled into the creation of a new NRR database. This therefore means that once the current NRR database has been used to produce a PVL, it must be completely scrapped.
The main advantages of this approach are:
• It allows for the fingerprinting of all registrants for biometrics comparison. This will help reduce multiple registrations.
• It allows for the effective purging/cleansing of the NRR of persons who are either dead or have migrated.
• It increases stakeholder confidence.
• it will provide a solid and accurate basis for the introduction by GECOM of continuous registration.

THE PNCR HAS CHOSEN ONE OF THE OPTIONS PROPOSED BY GECOM
It should be emphasized that the proposals by the PNCR are endorsed by many other stakeholders and together comprise of one of the options proposed by GECOM to political parties. GECOM therefore needs to urgently settle these issues so that actual work can commence in this direction. The PNCR will not be drawn into further public debate on this necessary precondition for a free fair and transparent election. It is sufficient to end by quoting from two recent reports. The introductory paragraph of the Roy Vedove’s Report that has been quoted extensively in a letter to the Media by the General Secretary of the PPP/C states:
“The Electors’ Database held at GECOM may become vulnerable if it is returned to operation, and the systems security at a network and database level is not significantly improved...” (Pg. 6 of 75 GECOM Electors’ Database Security Recommendations by Roy D Vedove.)

The latest GECOM Report from its IT Department dated July 29, 2004 states:
“Even superficial examination of the database both MRDB and MIDIS invariably reveals imperfect data which though not significant in terms of the number of instances of the particular fault, raises and doubts questions as to the extent of other “not yet discovered” problems which may exist…”

“..Certainly, a new database created from input derived from a well executed house to house registration exercise, and an equally efficient IT application development environment, will by far be more accurate, less contentious and more acceptable to stakeholders than any version of the current resource produced from additional attempts sanitize it..” (Pg 5 of GECOM’s Internal Memo re: Update on Problems Encountered during the Printing of National Identification (ID) Cards, dated July 29, 2004.)

GOVERNMENT OPERATIONALISES PROCUREMENT LEGISLATION IN BREACH OF TRUST

The PNCR has noted that in violation of the agreements to amend the legislation the government has proceeded to operationalise the Public Procurement Act. This Act, the public may remember, was rushed through Parliament in May 2003 with undignified haste without any genuine efforts to seek and incorporate the inputs of other parliamentary stakeholders and the local engineering/construction community.

Under local and international pressure, the government eventually agreed during 2003 constructive engagement process, that its representatives would meet with a team from the PNCR to remove the unsavory aspects of the procurement legislation and make any consequential amendments.

Several meetings were held and agreement was reached on several points. An undertaking was given that these matters would be referred to the Chief Parliamentary Counsel to prepare the legislative amendments. This is still to be done.

For the government to proceed, therefore, to translate the Act into practice, without any attempt to amend it in line with the points of agreement and with other points of tentative consensus, can only serve to reduce levels of trust and goodwill.

ANNOUNCEMENT OF FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE LATE ROBERT JORDAN ON FRIDAY JANUARY 13TH
The funeral of the late former Party Chairman, Mr. Robert Jordan will take place tomorrow Friday 14th January at the St Andrews Presbyterian Church Brickdam and High Street from 3:00 PM. The body will be in the Church from 2:00 PM for viewing.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Thursday, January 13, 2005