Continuous Registration exercise: GECOM to meet APNU/AFC today

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The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is slated to meet with representatives of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition today to address their concerns regarding the Continuous Registration exercise which resumed on March 7.

Government-nominated Commissioner Bibi Shadick told this publication that the APNU/AFC wrote a letter to GECOM requesting the meeting.

“The letter was a very short one, just to say they want to meet to discuss concerns about the current registration exercise,” she told this publication during a telephone interview.
It is unclear who will be representing the APNU/AFC Opposition at the meeting but GECOM’s Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh; Chief Elections Officer Vishnu Persaud as well as the Commissioners are expected to be present.

The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) – the largest political grouping in the APNU/AFC coalition – has already publicly expressed concerns regarding the Continuous Registration exercise.

While the PNC has encouraged all eligible Guyanese to participate in the exercise, the party said it expects GECOM to ensure the registration process is conducted in all regions “to the full satisfaction of applicants”.

Moreover, the PNC posited that the beginning of the Continuous Registration exercise will not thwart its efforts to ensure a clean voters’ list for the next Local Government Elections (LGE) as well as General and Regional Elections.

However, Commissioner Shadick reasoned that from all appearances, the PNC’s demands are not backed by law.

“They are on a mission to have a new voters’ list, new in the sense that you must throw away everything else and start from house-to-house…our law doesn’t allow that and at all times, GECOM follows the law…up to now the law is, that we do Continuous Registration,” Shadick contended.

The last time GECOM conducted Continuous Registration was in 2019, in preparation for the March 2020 General and Regional Elections. In 2019, acting Chief Justice Roxane George had ruled that the House-to-House Registration exercise that was being conducted was not unconstitutional. However, she cautioned that existing registrants cannot be deleted from the voters’ list unless certain criteria are met as provided by law—such as death.

The then controversial House-to-House Registration, which began in July 2019, came to an end on August 31 following the court’s ruling.

The PNC – which is still pushing for a House-to-House Registration exercise – has since advised that “first-time applicants during the 2019 House-to-House Registration have to now reapply from scratch.”

Meanwhile, another issue which was raised by the PNC was the COVID vaccination requirement for persons to register during the Continuous Registration exercise.

GECOM has since issued a statement announcing that persons between the ages of 14 and 17, who are unvaccinated but want to obtain their national identification card, can do so.

However, the COVID vaccine requirement remained in place for persons 18 and above.

“With specific reference to the provision that requires persons 18 years old and over must be fully vaccinated in order to visit any GECOM registration office to conduct registration transactions, the Commission will deliberate on this matter at its next statutory meeting, to determine a conclusive approach regarding this category of unvaccinated persons who may wish to conduct registration transactions,” the Elections Commission had contended in a statement issued on March 11.

The Commission’s next statutory meeting is today and when asked if this topic will come up for deliberation, Shadick explained that it may not be necessary in keeping with the Guyana Government’s announcement of its intention to fully reopen the economy.

Over the weekend, it was announced that the National COVID-19 Task Force is working on lifting the emergency measures that were put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and that the official order is expected to be signed by President Dr Irfaan Ali in a matter of days.

Guyana first implemented the host of COVID-19 measures shortly after the first case was detected in the country on March 11, 2020. Over the past two years, these restrictions have been amended – strengthened as well as partially removed – in order to fit the situation of the pandemic in Guyana.

One of the existing requirements is the need for persons to be vaccinated to enter certain public spaces or access certain services.

While shying away from commenting on the constitutionality of the vaccine requirement for registration, Shadick explained that the rule was put in place in keeping with the national COVID guidelines.

“We were scheduled to deliberate [on the removal of the requirement] but I’ve just been reading that the President has passed instructions that the country must be fully opened so I have no doubt…because what we did was follow the COVID guidelines…but if [the country] will be opened up, it might not be necessary,” she explained.

“I strongly suspect that we wouldn’t have to [keep the vaccine requirement] because I’m aware that there are many places where people go and they would no longer have to show any COVID [vaccine] card,” she added.

Any person, who will be 14 years or older by October 31, 2022, and is a Guyanese citizen by birth, descent, or naturalisation or is a citizen from a Commonwealth country living in Guyana for one year or more can apply for registration, provided that he or she was never registered before.

They are required to visit the GECOM registration office responsible for their area of residence with the relevant source documents: original birth certificate, valid passport, adoption certificate or naturalisation certificate in the case of new registration.

For change of name, the original marriage certificate or deed poll with birth certificate is required.

Existing registrants, who are desirous of updating their records, such as a request to correct or change their names, date of birth, occupation or update their addresses are advised that those transactions would also be facilitated during this exercise.