At a time when the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) is in the process of preparing its Official List of Electors (OLE) for the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has stressed the need for there to be international oversight so as to ensure credibility in the process.Opposition Leader Bharrat JagdeoSpeaking at his weekly press conference on Thursday, Jagdeo lamented the delays by GECOM in accepting international oversight assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).GECOM had indicated previously that it was in need of technical support particularly as it related to Information Technology (IT) . As such, the Commission had requested assistance from the UNDP last year in preparation for the November 2018 Local Government Elections (LGE) and the 2020 General Elections.A Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) was subsequently deployed in May last year to evaluate the current electoral environment in Guyana, and assess the form of future UN electoral assistance while also recommending the type of assistance that should be provided and the parameters, including the length of assistance, and modalities that would govern such assistance.GECOM Chair, Retired Justice Claudette SinghAmong the recommendations of the NAM, which was presented shortly after the visit, was for the UN to provide technical assistance to GECOM in a clear framework. It had recommended too that priority areas of assistance should include database management, systems design, and software development to improve the integrity of GECOM’s database, including voter registration and a solid results transmission system.GECOM had started talks with the UNDP; however, it was subsequently reported that there were a breakdown in those discussions.Deliberate blockingIn fact, Jagdeo had accused Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield of deliberately blocking the UNDP’s assistance.At Thursday’s press conference, the Opposition Leader reiterated that the assistance offered by the UNDP has been distorted at the level of the Commission. He pointed out that GECOM has refused the urgently-needed IT assistance from the UNDP, but accepted help in the form of media monitoring.Sense of urgency“We believe the offer from UNDP was distorted when it went to the Commission to create the impression that the offer of the IT assistance, that oversight or collaboration in IT, that that offer was no longer available and that there was an offer for media monitoring,” he noted.It was against this backdrop, Jagdeo said, that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP)-nominated Commissioners at GECOM required a report directly from the UNDP to seek clarity on the assistance offered. This report was supposed to be discussed by the seven-member Commission at Tuesday’s statutory meeting and make a decision, but according to the Opposition Leader, this was not done.“There should be a sense of urgency to get people here now particularly in the IT section, because that’s where the preliminary list and all the other lists are being generated and, therefore, you need oversight now and in this period. I suspect they’re trying to delay oversight until the OLE is created, which could have flaws. But even then, we will ask for an international testing of the list. You can do random testing to see that none of the data from the unverified [House-to-House] data would’ve contaminated the list,” Jagdeo stated.Moreover, he went on to question the delays in making a decision on a matter that was crucial to the quality of the elections. He noted that this was a simple decision to make, but there seemed to be a reluctance on the part of the GECOM Chair, Retired Justice Claudette Singh to accept oversight assistance from the UNDP.“At the end of the day, she is overall in charge [of GECOM] and I thought by now, she would want to have second opinions, more people looking out to see if everything is done properly if they want free and fair elections. So, critical going forward is oversight over IT too and the early acceptance and installation of international oversight mechanism. Why we have had these delays on simple decisions so far, I can’t explain. It defies logic that if you want free and fair elections and you want them to be helpful in the discharge of your duties, you should embrace all international support readily,” the Opposition Leader contended.AssistanceNevertheless, Jagdeo said on Thursday they were happy about the recent approvals for assistance from the Commonwealth and the Canadian Government. Last week, it was revealed that retired Chief Electoral Officer of Canada’s elections body, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, will be offering technical assistance to the Elections Commission here.Additionally, Government-nominated Commissioner Charles Corbin told reporters earlier this week that GECOM would be receiving help from the European Union (EU), which would be fielding an observer team for next year’s elections. Moreover, he noted too that the Commission was also in talks with Canada and the United States as well.“The Commission is open to receiving any assistance that corresponds with the need that they have,” Corbin stated, adding that “most of the major countries— Canada, US, EU – that have engaged with the Commission have made their services available to provide any support that they need. We’ve already had interventions through diplomatic channels to facilitate some of the work we’re doing to aid our operations and that will continue.”After President David Granger announced the March 2 elections date last month, a joint statement from British High Commissioner Gregory Quinn, United States Ambassador Sarah Ann-Lynch and Head of the EU Delegation to Guyana, Fernando Ponz Cantol reiterated willingness to offer electoral assistance. Stressing the need for free and fair elections, the diplomats stated that this support would take the form of “elections assistance and monitoring along with other colleagues in the international community”.