EAB confirms March 2001 polls were free, fair
Guyana Chronicle
February 16, 2002

THE Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB) has finally completed its assessment report on last year's general and regional elections and says the elections "were generally conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner (and) as a result, the will of the people who voted was reflected in the official results".

The report, however, noted that "confidence and trust in the entire voting system" was, to some extent, undermined by errors of omission and commission in the Voters' List.

The EAB said "an unspecified number of voters were either inaccurately registered or were not registered" in the Final Voters' List (FVL).

"On polling day elections were generally peaceful, and were conducted without fear or favour," the 27-page report stated.

The EAB apologised for "the extraordinary delay in getting the report out", saying this was due to some issues which were completely outside the control of its Council of Management.

"The Report is concise, and reflects accurately our observations of the processes, events and the general conditions under which the elections were conducted. We hope you find it of some interest, notwithstanding its late arrival," Fr. Malcolm Rodrigues, Chairman of the EAB's Council of Management said in a letter attached to the report released yesterday.

A large number of local and international observers were on hand to observe the March 19, 2001 elections here which saw the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) winning the polls.

The observers said the elections were free and fair, a finding now endorsed by the EAB.

According to the EAB report, changes in respect of the times of poll closure that were announced during the actual process of the elections, and the inordinate delays in announcing the results of poll once the elections were concluded, also caused concerns in relation to the result.

The report noted that on elections day (March 19), party agents were present in almost all of the polling stations, and were permitted to observe the elections without hindrance.

There was evidence that there were lapses of security in some polling stations which remained open after the closure of the poll, the EAB observed.

In all but a few cases, polling material were in adequate supply and the situation was speedily corrected when there were shortages, it said.

The EAB said too that for the most part, polling officials were trained, particularly in respect of the procedures that were meant to be followed during the actual process of voting.

However, it said the system came under some strain when the procedures established for the transmission of the results of the polls to district headquarters, and to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in Georgetown, had to be implemented.

The EAB's report recommended that a great amount of experience in running elections should by now have been accumulated in Guyana.

"This experience should be carefully analysed, and a manual produced which would not only serve as a management tool for future elections, but would also provide the basis for a series of continuous training courses," it said.

If this were done, the EAB said Guyana would be providing itself with the electoral institutional memory, which it now seems to lack.

The body also recommended that GECOM be established as "a permanent, independent authority".

The "ad hoc arrangements" which are now made each time there is to be an election are most unsatisfactory, as these do not lead to continuity, and do not inspire the electorate with confidence, particularly because of the scepticism normally associated with the choice of chairperson, the EAB asserted.

The report also recommended that the placement of citizens on the Voters' List should be part of a continuous exercise. Registration should be based on a survey agreed upon by Parliament, it said.

The EAB also observed that Guyana is long due for a census of its population.

The EAB urged that this should be conducted as soon as possible and should provide the initial material for the Voter's List.

Incidentally, it would also eliminate the guessing exercises which are now associated with estimates of the country's population, and its racial configuration, the EAB added.

In this regard, it said the census should note a person's "call name" (also known as) as this can be an important piece of data in locating that person.

The procedures and structure of the Elections Commission should be reorganised to make certain that the Commission is able to communicate with the public promptly and clearly, the EAB also recommended. Many of the problems that were associated with the entire elections process in 2001, from registration to publication of results, were due to poor communication.

The EAB said too that permanent elections commission staff should be continuously trained, and their skills updated.

In addition, the EAB said training courses should be mounted at regular intervals for those members of civil society who express an interest in assisting in the elections process.

The ultimate objective should be the building-up of a critical mass of trained personnel to perform the tasks demanded by an election.

The EAB recommended too that the staff of GECOM should become computer literate since this would expedite the processes of counting and collating, and would enable the Commission to release results more quickly.

The EAB observed that special problems, particularly in the transmission of the final poll results, seemed to have been experienced in Region Four, both in 1997 and 2001.

It, however, noted that Region Four is the largest and most ethnically diverse region in Guyana, which probably account for the problems so frequently encountered. Special attention should be paid to this region with a view to facilitating the conduct of its electoral processes, the EAB said.

Another recommendation in the report is that "the media should be held accountable", and the laws and regulations governing the conduct of the media should be modernised, and a code of conduct for media practitioners established and enforced.

All candidates and political parties should also be required, by law, to abide by the tenets of a code of conduct, the EAB said.

The election regulations which provides for persons not to be within a defined area from the polling station should be stringently enforced, it added.