ADDRESS TO THE NATION
BY HON. ROBERT H. O. CORBIN, M.P.
LEADER OF THE
PEOPLE'S NATIONAL CONGRESS REFORM 
LEADER OF THE PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION 
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 20 05

FELLOW GUYANESE, 

Today is the second of September 2005.   

I wish to speak with you tonight about the state of preparations for the holding of elections next year, the delays by the Guyana Elections Commission in both decision making and positive action, especially the commencement of the Continuous Registration process which was initially projected to start since April this year and was rescheduled to have begun yesterday, and the possible consequences of this situation.    

PNCR COMMITTED TO HOLDING OF ELECTIONS

Allow me to restate at the outset that the Peoples National Congress Reform is committed to the holding of and participating in General and Regional Elections in Guyana as soon as possible.  Our only demand - if one wishes to use that word - is no more, and no less, than what is demanded by our Constitution and required by our Electoral Laws.  

ALL THE PEOPLE OF GUYANA MUST WIN AFTER THE NEXT ELECTIONS

It is my hope that after the next election, there will be ONE vital winner. GUYANA.  The people of Guyana must win after the next election is held.  Our painful experiences tell us that we must have a properly run election that is satisfactory to all.  I believe this is a view held by the overwhelming majority of Guyanese.    

Our next election must be free, fair and transparent in every way. Most stakeholders in Guyana and the Donor Community must be aware of what are the minimum conditions for this to be achieved. The Opposition Parties have not left it to chance. We have over the past four months met with most stakeholders in Guyana and explained our position on these issues.  

After these elections, no person, political party or interest group must have any reasonable grounds for complaint.  That should be GECOMís objective. The responsibility for meeting these standards and achieving this objective rests squarely on the shoulders of GECOMís Chairman, Mr. Steve Surujbally, its six Commissioners and its Secretariat who must have consulted their stakeholders to ascertain their concerns. 

DEADLINE HAS PASSED AND GECOM HAS FAILED TO KEEP THE PUBLIC INFORMED

Yesterday was the date publicly announced by Dr. Steve Surujbally as the new date when Continuous Registration would begin.  The first of September was therefore a most important date Ė the day when our young people who will attain age eighteen by the date of the election would have had the opportunity to be registered to ensure that they are qualified to vote for the first time in the forthcoming elections.  However, since the date of election is not yet known, GECOM is required to make an order specifying a qualifying date and the age which persons must have attained to be eligible for registration. To date no such publication has been done.    

IS THERE CONTEMPT FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

As I speak with you, this deadline has come and gone without so much as a word, a comment or an explanation by those who hold Constitutional responsibility and who are accountable for putting in place the technical arrangements for next yearís election.    

Dr. Surujbally is out of the country.  Where he is, we know not.  For what purpose he departed, we know not.  GECOMís six Commissioners are silent. The Chief Election Officer is silent. GECOMís statutory meeting this week was cancelled.  For what reason, we know not.   

We can only conclude that the contempt for citizens that has long characterized relationships between the Government and people of this country is infectious.  GECOM, which, in violation of the Constitution, is now annexed as one of Governmentís Ďbudget agenciesí  has caught the disease of not informing people and has now demonstrated its contempt for the young people of this country.   

GECOM IS ACCOUNTABLE FOR PNCRíS UNNECESSARY EXPENDITURE

The PNCR, relying on GECOMís promise that Continuous Registration would have commenced yesterday, organized - at considerable expense - a training programme for our proposed scrutineers from all over Guyana on Saturday 27th last. Regrettably we were unable to receive from GECOM reliable information on their approved procedures to make our training programme meaningful. We hold GECOM responsible for the unnecessary expenditure that we incurred. 

NO INFORMATION FROM GECOM

All of the Parliamentary Opposition Parties harboured fears that the deadline of September first would not be met. It is for this reason that we tried, albeit in vain, to insist that GECOM produce to the National Assembly of the Parliament their time bound Election Project plan and the Subsidiary legislation to govern Registration.  

Accordingly, we wrote Dr. Surujbally on the nineteenth of August requesting an urgent meeting before the first of September so that he could bring us all up to date on progress made since the passage of the National Registration (Amendment) Act on July 14, 2005 and the motion passed on August 4, 2005 calling for Parliamentary Support of the MOU signed by GECOM, the Government of Guyana and the Donor Community.   

In order to prepare Dr. Surujbally, his Commissioners and his secretariat for this meeting, we told him that among other issues, our Parties wished to be informed about the status of five specific matters which were listed in our letter. Our concerns were obvious because of; 

  1. the absence of information about the content of GECOMís announced training programme for Registration Officials that would inform political parties intending to contest the next election and enable them to observe the training process;
  1. the absence of information about subsidiary regulations to the National Registration (Amendment) Act that would inform the public on details of how Continuous Registration was to be conducted under the law; 
  1. the absence of information about the method by which the Official List of Electors was to be verified as provided for in the National Registration (Amendment) Act; 
  1. the absence of information about how the data-base of New Registrants (those attaining the age of seventeen years) would be created and maintained, including photographs and fingerprinting as required by Law; 
  1. the absence of information that would enable contesting political parties to train their scrutineers who would naturally be expected to monitor the Registration process; and, 
  1. The absence of detailed information on the target dates for completion of each of the many critical tasks that must be completed on time for the efficient conduct of elections in keeping with Constitutional requirements.

 

GECOM CHAIRMAN ADMITS DIFFICULTIES

Dr. Surujballyís reply of 26th August did not shed any new light on these issues.  He confirmed that most of these issues were still being discussed and debated by his Commissioners.  He explained that difficulties were being encountered in establishing dates and timelines for the elections project.  And finally, he proposed from the 7th September 2005 onwards as the new time frame for the meeting.   

Fellow Guyanese,

These are the facts. What conclusions can we draw at this time? I leave that judgment to you.

CONTINUOUS REGISTRATION  

Nearly three years ago all political parties agreed to the introduction of Continuous Registration in Guyana.  As you know, the original position of the PNCR was that a precondition for introducing this system should be the creation of a new database derived from a new Registration exercise with the inclusion of live-scan fingerprints or biometrics.   

It has been conveniently forgotten that, in accordance with existing regulations of the National Registration Act, every person registered must provide information about himself or herself, including fingerprints as a unique identifier of the person so registered.  The only outstanding question is what would be the most efficient and cost-effective way of collecting fingerprints so that the identity of a registrant could be quickly confirmed, thereby guarding against double or multiple registration. Experiences of GECOM during the Registration process before the 2001 Elections should have made decision making on this issue very simple and expeditious. Regrettably, this has not been the case. 

PNCR HAS MADE SEVERAL COMPROMISES

Fellow Guyanese,

You should be aware of the compromises which the PNCR made on several important electoral issues. For example,  

  • Instead of a complete New House to House Registration we agreed to the using of a House to House verified version of the 2001 Official List of Electors, OLE, and its several addenda, as the starting point for the updated list of Electors for the 2006 elections; 
  • Instead of insisting on the scrapping of the old database we agreed to ensuring the integrity of the data-base by implementing the security, technical and other applications recommended in several recent reports, provided, of course, that certain monitoring mechanisms were put in place;
  • We also agreed to GECOM pursuing a most urgent determination of the feasibility of live-scan fingerprinting, AFIS, or biometrics, to use its technical term.

To date there has been no implementation of any of these compromises.   We believe that GECOM must be made to account to the nation now; not later when further problems arise.   For our part, we remain committed to the democratic process and to the holding of Elections according to acceptable international standards. These standards have been spelt out in the MOU and the signatories have undertaken to meet under the scrutiny of domestic and international observers of the entire electoral process. 

DIFFICULTIES MUST BE FACED AND NOT SWEPT UNDER THE CARPET

If there are difficulties, these must be admitted.  They must not be swept under the carpet to haunt us later.  The PNCR, as a responsible political party, has always been and remains willing, able and prepared to engage in good faith political discussions in the interest of all the people of Guyana.  However, it has to be recognized and accepted by all that we have a responsibility to a vast number of Guyanese who expect us to represent their interests. We will not shirk from that responsibility. 

DENIAL OF EQUITABLE ACCESS TO STATE MEDIA

My decision to speak with you at this time has been influenced by the continued refusal of the Government to honour their commitments to equitable access to the state media by the Parliamentary Opposition Parties and the deliberate distortion of our positions on the essential requirements for acceptable elections in Guyana.  I would therefore like to place on public record the position of the PNCR, and indeed, the entire Parliamentary Opposition.   

WE MUST NOT REPEAT THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST

Our historical experience with General Elections is sufficient to motivate us all to urgently resolve all problematic issues which have bedeviled us in the past.  GECOMís charge is to restore and maintain public confidence in the Electoral process; to address every reasonable cause for complaint by any contesting political party before, during or after the Elections.   

Regrettably, GECOMís performance to date and the utterances from the PPP indicate that conditions are being created for us to make the same mistakes again. However, as a responsible political party we have a duty to place these matters in the public domain at this early stage, irrespective of the contrived propaganda about our motives, so that no one can claim to be unaware of the essential issues, as well as the possible consequences of failure to address them. 

PNCR REMAINS COMMITTED TO HOLDING ELECTIONS

As I stated before, we are committed to the holding of, and participating in, General and Regional Elections within the Constitutional time frame.  We expect those elections to be conducted within the Law.  We insist that the expectations of the major stake holders for free fair and transparent elections must be met.  We cannot accept any procedures that do not satisfy what are the minimum conditions required by Law.  It should be known by now that we have never been intimidated by those who indulge in misinformation and false rumors.

Fellow Guyanese, 

These are some of the matters likely to jeopardize the holding Elections in accordance with the Constitution.  It would be irresponsible of me to be alarmist.  It is my duty to give you the facts as we know them and as related to us by the GECOMĒs Chairman.  We leave it to you to conclude what these facts indicate and what they foreshadow.  

OPPOSITION PARTIES NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DELAYS

What I will say is this.  The Parliamentary Opposition Parties, and particularly the PNCR, accept no responsibility for these delays.  We hold GECOM (Its Chairman, its Commissioners and its Secretariat) and the Government of Guyana totally responsible for these unfortunate developments.  

In conclusion, let me once again state our position.  We are committed to elections as soon as possible.  Our demand is no more, and no less than the demand that is found in the letter and spirit of our Constitution and our electoral laws.   We cannot, and will not, accept anything less and understand the recently signed MOU to be a solemn undertaking by Government, the donors and GECOM as an autonomous Commission to be similarly motivated.   

We will engage in a continuing political struggle to ensure that acceptable standards are met.  If it becomes necessary, our supporters, our well-wishers and all Guyanese must be prepared to undertake further political action to ensure that their Constitutional rights to freely express their will in elections are never subverted. 

DELAYS SEEMS DESIGNED TO FRUSTRATE OPPOSITION PARTIES PROPOSALS

We know of the experiences of our friends and experts in India, Jamaica, other Caribbean countries and numerous democracies.  Haiti, despite its enormous political, economic, security and other difficulties, will register over two million voters using biometric fingerprinting in time for elections before the end of this year.   

We therefore know that the registering of not more than 400,000 Guyanese voters is by no means a monumental task but we have been discussing these matters for more than two years. GECOM has chosen not to inform itself of the experiences of our Caribbean neighbours.  GECOM has chosen not to present a single comprehensive proposal or quotation that would enable informed decisions to be taken about what is possible in Guyana.  

The inescapable conclusion is that there are deliberate efforts being made to frustrate the call of the opposition parties for the use of live scan fingerprinting, biometrics, and the conduct of house to house verification of the OLE by the creation of extended delays to justify the argument that there is not enough time. There can be no compromise on matters of such fundamental importance. 

LETS WORK TOGETHER TO ENSURE ALL GUYANA WINS

Fellow Guyanese, 

As Leader of the Opposition, I believe I have complied with my constitutional responsibility that requires me to consult with all Parliamentary Opposition Parties.  We have discussed these matters continuously over the past five months.  We have been meeting with all stakeholders.  We will continue to work for the conduct of elections that meet the required technical and professional standards.   

We believe that we must all raise our voices and insist on transparency and fairness in the electoral process and so avoid the disharmony and dislocation that has attended recent elections.  

It is our hope that GECOM, its Chairman, its Commissioners and its Secretariat will be open with us and share their difficulties so that we can all work together to ensure that GUYANA wins this time around to ensure the safe, secure and productive future that all Guyanese hope for.  We will continue to update you on developments.   

May God continue to bless all of us and guide our Nation.  

GOOD NIGHT. 

People's National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
Georgetown, Guyana.
Friday, September 2, 2005
Visit our website at www.guyanapnc.org