Publication | Report/Paper

Guyana Final Report, Civil and Voter Registration and Identification System

Executive Summary

Despite considerable advances and the success of the 1992 general elections and the 1994 local and municipal elections, the Guyana electoral system requires extensive rehabilitation to achieve adequate standards of fairness, efficiency, and sustainability. A persistent electoral problem in Guyana has been the condition of the voter registry and the system of national identification card issuance and tracking. This problem was reflected in the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) 1990 Guyana pre-election technical assessment, again during technical assistance for the 1994 local and municipal elections and also in the Carter Center's 1991-1992 assessment of the electoral process.

In a number of projects in Guyana since 1990, IFES has been working with other organizations toward the goal of helping establish an efficient and transparent electoral process. In the period July through December 1994, a series of useful and well-accepted proposals were developed by Dennis Smith and Mersada Elcock, of the Barbados Elections Commission, who worked in close consultation with members of the Guyana Elections Commission. This work, assisted by funding from the Carter Center and through support provided by the Government of Denmark, was fully documented and then submitted by the Elections Commission to tile Government of Guyana as formal recommendations. After ail analysis of these reports, IFES came to the conclusion that the next logical step forward in the improvement of the' electoral system in Guyana would be to focus and elaborate on this work in order to develop a comprehensive implementation plan that would be acceptable to Guyanese policy makers considering electoral reform.

The team of experts was arranged to examine the various components 'required to implement the "Barbados Model" in Guyana. In consultation with members of the Inter-Party Committee for Electoral Reform, the team acquired information 'about the project requirements necessary to establish a feasible and cost-effective plan for the implementation of a new registration and identification system. Partly because of significant associated costs ($4.7 to $6.5 M US), and partly because of the amount of development time (4 to 5 years) required to deliver the project plan in such a way that the new system can be fully sustained by the Guyanese once each component is built, the team decided that a “Three Phase" implementation approach would be the most appropriate. The project could be stopped or delayed following any phase, should this become necessary.

The first phase, broadly speaking, includes conducting a door-to-door enumeration process and registering all Guyanese citizens over the age of fourteen. Persons would be required to show their current identification cards; those who do not have one would be told how, where and when to obtain a new" old style" identity card. The second phase will be initiated after the 1997 elections, and involves issuing new high security photo-identification cards to all persons registered during the enumeration process conducted prior to the 1997 election, as well as all those voters who registered during pre-election period. The third phase includes enumerating the remaining persons of the Guyanese population and then linking the computer system supporting the civil register with the system used to record information about births, deaths, and marriages. Based on future agreements on financing and feasibility, these phases can be incorporated into a long-term institutional capacity building project with significant spill-over effects into other areas of the public sector which will help develop and maintain integrity in the civil registration system.

The team developed a series of assumptions on which to base the plan as a result of interviews and discussions with Guyanese professionals and members of the Inter-Party Committee for Electoral Reform. Through these consultations, the team was able to derive and confirm the general consensus that exists among the political parties represented in Parliament regarding electoral reform in the areas of voter registration and the issuance of identity cards.

At the time of the writing of this report, a clear consensus existed about the urgent need for reform in the registration process and the requirement for a door-to-door enumeration process that must be held prior to the 1997 elections. As well, an ambitious vision exists among leaders of several of the political parties regarding the development of a high integrity civil register with multi-purpose use of a new type of identification card for the people of Guyana. The project implementation phases are built upon the assumption that the current political consensus will continue to exist. However, in order to successfully implement the third phase in this project, more agreement will be necessary within the Guyanese political and public context and input from management staff of the Elections Commission will be required. The implementation of each of the project phases are designed not only to provide technical support to the electoral process, but also ensure that a solid management structure for the electoral system becomes institutionalized.

The team, in examining the current electoral system and the proposed project phases, recommends that preparatory work start as soon as possible to ensure the efficient implementation of the new registration and identification systems. Planning is an integral part of a project of this size and much attention should be paid to "thinking things through" in order to avoid the added expense and stress of last-minute preparations. In addition, several legislative reforms are needed to refine existing electoral laws relating to the management of the registration process. There is a consensus among political leaders in Guyana that the independence and integrity of an Elections Commission are fundamental· components in the development of the electoral process. It follows, therefore, that a permanent Elections Commission structure must be established. The proposed civil registry system will only function effectively if there is permanency of operations and the entire management of the process remains under steady control and consistent direction.

This report reflects important aspects of the significant progress that has been made by members of the Inter-Party Committee for Electoral Reform. The project implementation plan provides an analysis of the steps on the path to achieve the goals that the Committee has established on the needs surrounding voter registration and identity cards. A critical early step on this path is the rapid creation of a permanent Elections Commission and a professional management structure to support it.

The proposed implementation plan contained in this report reflects a structured approach to revamping the registration and identity card systems for voters and citizens in Guyana. To the maximum extent possible, it has been written to reflect what Guyanese leaders told the team was the desired course of action for implementing their vision of a new civil registry and identification system.