The Guyana Electoral Commission (GECOM) is set to finally begin discussions on proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA) on Tuesday, weeks after retired chairwoman Justice Claudette Singh made her submissions to the government. .
The decision was taken at Tuesday’s statutory meeting according to opposition-appointed commissioner Vincent Alexander.
Alexander said: “When we meet again next week [Tuesday] we have decided that this meeting will be devoted to discussing the amendments to the RoPA made by the government and to offer our own observations. Thus, when we are finished, there will be a submission from GECOM to the government on the amendments.
There are three government-appointed commissioners – Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Manoj Narayan while Alexander, Charles Corbin and Desmond Trotman were appointed by the opposition. Shadick said she had already commented on the amendments while Gunraj said he would not.
The draft amendments are the result of attempts to rig the general and regional elections of March 2, 2020, which saw a delay of five months between the ballot and the proclamation of the final results.
Following the events of the March 2020 election, several former GECOM officials, including Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, Deputy Chief Executive Officer Roxanne Myers and Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, and officials of political parties have been charged with offences.
One of the main changes proposed by the government is the division of Region Four, the largest electoral district in the country, into four sub-districts – East Bank Demerara, East Coast Demerara, North Georgetown and South Georgetown – thus adding a new section to Section 6 of RoPA, which deals with constituencies and polling divisions.
Among the proposed changes are the introduction of heavy fines and long prison sentences for several election-related offences. Fines run into the millions while prison terms range from three years to life.
The draft amendments were published in November last year and since then the government has been accepting public comments on the proposed amendments. So far, it has received a number of such submissions and GECOM’s is said to be among the most substantial.
Among the submissions, the President of GECOM called for the consolidation of electoral laws as well as amendments to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to provide the Commission with copies of Statements of the Vote (SOPs) to assist in the declaration and publication of the final results.
This reform proposal is seen as a strengthening of the role of GECOM in the final declaration. Current legislation seems to give the impression that GECOM is required to accept the CEO’s final report. This had been a problem in the 2020 election when the CEO submitted a clearly flawed report and defied the President’s directives.
President Singh has already made submissions and the whole Commission met with Attorney General Anil Nandlall last week where they discussed the submissions. The opposition is adamant that for electoral reform to be undertaken, legislative changes are needed to deal with deceased persons on the voters list as well as the introduction of biometric technologies to prevent fraudulent voting.