GECOM chairmanship appealThe Court of Appeal on Friday granted an application to expedite the proceedings filed by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha, who is appealing the High Court ruling that upheld President David Granger’s unilateral appointment of Retired Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).At the first hearing on Wednesday, Mustapha’s legal team, led by Attorney-at-Law Anil Nandlall, had applied for the matter to be expedited given the importance of the case. As such, at Friday’s hearing, the Appeal Court panel, led by acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards, agreed with Nandlall that the matter was one of “national importance” and should be expedited.However, this was not before the court heard arguments from both parties.Attorney General Basil Williams argued that the hearing of the appeal should be postponed to after the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE), which were already set, and monies spent for preparations.However, Nandlall, a former Attorney General himself, dismissed those arguments, saying that the Local Government polls could always be rescheduled and pointing out that the Party’s paramount concern was to have the appeal determined way ahead of the 2020 General and Regional Elections so that there was sufficient time for further appeal at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) if necessary.After hearing the arguments of the two sides, Justice Cummings-Edwards set October 4 as the soonest possible date. During this time, the parties will have to file their submissions with regard to the appeal case and the acting Chancellor urged them “to observe the timelines”.The acting Chancellor in her ruling on the ‘expedite request’ said that “…a hearing of the appeal should be conducted in a relatively short space of time …This is not to say we are not mindful of other matters that are before us, but such matters of national importance have been dealt with before”.Shortly after the hearing, Nandlall told reporters that he was pleased with the court’s decision, since the matter could have been fixed at a much later date.Nandlall went on to say that he did not see any issue with the LGE being rescheduled if the court ruled in a particular way since December was initially earmarked for the Elections.On the other hand, AG Williams indicated to media operatives that he would be ready with his submissions, since they would be premised on the same arguments he proffered in court, stating that President Granger properly appointed the GECOM Chair and that Chief Justice Roxane George confirmed that appointment in her ruling last month.However, he was adamant that with November 12 already set as the date for the LGE this year, the appeal proceeding would not affect it.“We made our application on law, that is, when Mr Nandlall filed his action, an election date has not been announced. An election date is now announced and it means that the process has commenced and the courts really ought not to interfere with that process … The law tells you quite clearly, the court shouldn’t stop any election by an application made before the holding of the elections because of the volume of money and activities that would have already been spent and already undergone. It didn’t make sense; it would be more debilitating than progressing,” the AG pointed out.However, Attorney Nandlall contended that no monies were spent.After rejecting three lists of nominees submitted by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, President Granger went ahead and unilaterally appointed Justice Patterson as Chairman of GECOM. This decision had been, and continues to be, the centre of contention.In fact, it was as a result of this that the PPP Executive Secretary approached the High Court to challenge the appointment. But on June 8, 2018, Chief Justice George had ruled that the Constitution of Guyana allowed for the President to unilaterally appoint someone to fill the position of GECOM Chair. As such, Mustapha earlier this month filed legal proceedings to appeal the High Court decision.
H2H muddleWith reports emerging that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) will be including all potential new registrants on the Revised List of Electors (RLE), Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo is demanding answers.Opposition Leader Bharrat JagdeoReports had suggested that all the registrants to be included would mean those that GECOM and party teams did not locate during the recent field verification. Jagdeo noted that this is an unusual approach and called on GECOM to clarify its position.“We have not heard officially from GECOM. We saw a statement from [GECOM Commissioner] Vincent Alexander that all the House-to-House data would be used… we would find it very unusual that the Chair [retired Justice Claudette Singh] would vote to embark on a process of verifying the 16,000 names and then seek to include names that are unverified,” the Opposition Leader told the media on Monday. He added that the purpose of the verification process will be defeated if these unverified names are included on the final list.“So we’re awaiting official declarations on the matter, because there seems to be some confusion around it… we found empty house lots etc. If you put them on the voters’ list too, that means you are putting a number of unverified people. I can give you their names, a number of people who don’t exist at all.”Jagdeo pointed out that because of the Christmas season, some people may not have been at home during the verification exercise, adding that his party is willing to have those persons included on the Revised List of Electors (RLE), pending their verification.GECOM Chair, Retired Justice Claudette Singh“We found some people who were not at home. That’s what their families said to us. So if they include them on the revised list of electors, there could be a process of revisiting them before the OLE comes out. The revised voters’ list has to be published for 21 days. Then the OLE, by the time it comes out, they would have re-verified and either have them removed or remain,” he said.These ‘new’ registrants were captured during the halted House-to-House (H2H) exercise that ran from July 20 to August 31. However, the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has always contended that the H2H exercise was largely unsupervised and would produce flawed results.Indeed, the party subsequently found that many of the persons listed as ‘new’ registrants are either dead or were previously registered. The concern that has been expressed is that this could be the gateway to fraudulent voting and election rigging.It had previously been announced that over 6500 persons of the 16,863 ‘new’ registrants were not confirmed during the five-day field verification exercise which concluded on December 22. Figures released to the media the next day had shown that Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) had the highest number of unconfirmed persons, which tallied to 3657.According to GECOM, there were 16,863 ‘new’ registrants but only 10,329 were confirmed.Opposition-nominated Commissioner Robeson Benn told this publication last week that field officers who conducted the verification exercise of “new registrants” captured during the scrapped H2H process have found empty lots at the addresses on record for those persons.Some 370,000 registrations obtained during the scrapped $3 billion H2H exercise, which ran from July 20 to August and was objected to by the Opposition, were sent overseas to be cross-matched with the National Register of Registrants Database (NRRD) in order to filter out the duplicates.However, it was recently reported that international digital security company, Gemalto, indicated that some 37,300 were new registrants who are eligible for voting, that is, they are above the age of 18. But an internal check conducted by GECOM showed that approximately 17,000 of those “new registrants” were already on the voters’ list and some even voted in the past.Efforts to contact GECOM’s Public Relations Officer, Yolanda Ward, to clarify exactly what GECOM is doing with these new registrants and whether all will be included in the RLE, were futile.