Objections remain over electoral database integrity
Stabroek News
April 25, 2004

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Electoral stakeholders have been mostly positive about proposals for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) IT system but concerns linger about the integrity of the voters' list database.

GECOM is still receiving responses from the interested parties, some of whom have, by their own admission, taken moderate positions on the proposals, notwithstanding some reservations. Both the ruling PPP/C and the main opposition PNCR are among this group, while the Working People's Alliance (WPA) has registered serious objections to the proposals and their architect, IFES consultant Ronan McDermott.

McDermott was hired to prepare an IT (Information Technology) Operations Manual to address vulnerabilities detected within the GECOM's IT system by IDEA consultant Roy Dalle Vedove, whose work has been rejected by the WPA.

The manual was circulated to stakeholders for their input since December.

The deadline for reply was originally set for February but was extended to accommodate some of the stakeholders.

But the commission has not yet examined the responses, which are being submitted gradually to GECOM, Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally told Stabroek News. The responses are to be examined later in the month, he added.

One of the central considerations of the commission is expected to be the serious criticisms of the WPA, which questioned GECOM's choice of both Vedove and McDermott.

McDermott's suitability was called into question in view of his previous relationship with the system as he was a member of the Technical Oversight Committee for the 2001 General Elections. McDermott could not be contacted for comment.

Central Manager for the WPA Desmond Trotman noted that GECOM has repeated a mistake it made before by retaining a person who has had a previous relationship with the system to review his earlier work and to suggest improvement for its shortcomings.

This was in clear reference to Vedove, whose recommendations addressing the systemic vulnerabilities have not been accepted by the party; neither have his conclusions, and this was reaffirmed by Trotman who said they would not be accepted by the WPA.

"In the opinion of the WPA... GECOM would have been better served if it had availed itself of opinions from experts other than the two named individuals in its attempt to address such an important issue," Trotman explained.

Nevertheless, after intense scrutiny of the proposals, the WPA's primary criticism was in relation to the Systems Development Methodology Manual, which it noted was either totally missing or lacking. In its place is what the party calls a generic paper on Microsoft's generalised system development methodology.

GECOM's electoral database has been an issue of controversy since the 2001 General Elections. Most notably the PNCR has questioned the integrity and security of the database.

The WPA also has very strong reservations about the validity of the database, which is also emphasised in its response.

"In submitting our response, the WPA wishes to make it very clear that GECOM should not, and we emphasise, should not interpret this to mean acceptance of the present database as the way forward."Meanwhile, PNCR General Secretary Oscar Clarke also said McDermott's proposals did not look at the database, a concern which the party did communicate to GECOM in its response.

The database has been an issue of contention for the party, which has expressed concerns about its integrity in the wake of system audits that have been conducted since 2001.

The party's concerns have led to its calls for the entire database to be scrapped in favour of a new registration exercise and a new electoral roll in time for the 2006 General Elections.

"[McDermott's] recommendations don't go to the heart of the database problems... he looked at how to improve the security environment. I hope they are still taking action to deal with [the database]..." Clarke said on the issue.

But he said his party's primary reservations are with regard to the implementation of the proposals.

He explained that there are concerns about whether GECOM has the technical expertise to ensure all the arrangements are implemented in accordance with the recommendations.

"But what we have recommended would be going a far way towards ensuring a safer environment for the IT operations," he said.

In a brief comment, PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar told Stabroek News that after consultations with experts the party does have some reservations about some of the proposals. He said the party made suggestions which it thinks will improve the system as a result.