When Mr Felix removed the head of the General Registry Office last December, the PPP General Secretary Mr Clement Rohee said, “word has it that the Department of Citizenship was created to re-introduce efforts by the PNC to control the births and deaths registration process with a view to manipulating the voters’ list by keeping the name of dead persons on the list of electors and by transferring names of underage persons from the birth register to the preliminary voters’ list.”
Ever since last year when the APNU/AFC government broke with the century-old tradition of subsuming Guyana’s immigration department under the Police Force, there have been suspicions expressed by the PPP/C that there was more to the move than met the eye.
The newly formed “Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration” also incorporated the department of Birth and Registration and, in a nutshell, controlled and determined who were, or could be, citizens of Guyana. The Ministry was one of five functioning within the Ministry of the Presidency and was headed by former Commissioner of Police, Winston Felix.
In subsequent comments, Mr Rohee expanded on his fears that the initiatives of the Ministry of Citizenship could be directly related to efforts on the part of the government to ensure that it obtains a majority in the next elections that are scheduled in 2010. The question is whether Mr Rohee is paranoid or does he have grounds for his fears. And should the wider population of Guyanese look at the situation somewhat more closely.
In this regard, it must be conceded that against the background of rigged elections between 1968 and 1985 in the country, such fears cannot be dismissed out of hand. This is even more reasonable when some of the mechanisms enabling past electoral riggings are possibly being replicated in the present. For instance, in the 1968 elections, many individuals who “voted” were shown not to be alive or were not old enough to vote. Since the present Voters’ List is updated from the GRO’s records of Births and Deaths, there would appear to be grounds for Mr Rohee’s suspicions.
On the suspicions about immigration, the PPP might also be reacting to PNC plans to rig the 1968 elections. In a declassified CIA 1965 memo, it was stated:
“In a conversation [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] on 20 November, /2/ Forbes Burnham stated that his immediate objective is to launch his economic development plan so that he will be able to induce large numbers of West Indians of African descent to settle in Guyana prior to the December 1968 elections. His purpose is radically to alter the racial balance now existing in the electorate in sufficient time to enable him to win a plurality in the 1968 elections.”
While the 1968 elections were actually rigged with the help of a padded voters list, proxy voting and overseas voting, the plans to alter the “racial arithmetic” – and by extension the distribution of votes in the racialised voting in Guyana – were pursued into the 1970’s when the collapse of the Guyanese economy ensured there were no mass immigration from the West Indian “small islands”, especially St Lucia.
In the last elections, the difference between the government and the Opposition was less than 5000 votes and it would not take much manipulation to ensure the status quo remains. The Government must ensure that its initiatives in the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration are transparent to allay fears that history might repeat itself.