I write, not to add to the imbroglio existing out of recent, particular decisions, arrived at, by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), nor to deepen the public anguish those decisions continue to fuel, but to point out the continuing danger the decisions pose, to the delivery of free, fair, transparent and credible elections in Guyana.
I am of the view that the rejection, by casting vote, of eight (8) of ten (10) motions, proposed by Commissioners, Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and myself, has established a recount process, which will be conducted under circumstances less transparent and, therefore, less credible than that which existed for the fraudulent, botched process, which occurred, as a result of the fake Returning Officer Mingo tabulation and declaration for Region Four, and the resulting fraudulent report of the election, compiled by Chief Election Officer (Keith) Lowenfield.
The proposed motions were:
(1) Live-streaming of the ballot recounts and the continuous projection and tabulations of Statements of Recount (SORs) would be the ultimate public confirmation and confidence booster of the recount process. These were rejected on the flimsy ground that live-streaming would excite irrational passions. This for election results, which are widely known as to their true nature by all contestants, the public at large, the accredited observers and the international community.
(2) Provision of the CEO’s original Statements of Poll (SOPs) for District Four (4) to Commissioners for examination and for copies to, also, be provided. This was rejected with no reason given! It is significant to note that the Commissioners performed, and agreed to an authentication process by scanning and initialing, and were provided with almost all SOPs for the elections, except for some, which were still in process when problems erupted at the operational centre. The Chairperson, retired Justice (Claudette) Singh, herself, participated in this process! It has been noted, elsewhere, that at the end of prior elections, these SOPs were provided to contestants, who demanded them. This refusal, on this occasion, is egregious and alarming, since the CEO holds his originals, on behalf of the Commission, to which every Commissioner has a right to, in fulfillment of statutory rights and fiduciary responsibilities. Moreover, the refusal to provide the now remaining SOPs strongly indicates that there is something to hide, and gives credence to allegations and unconfirmed reports of alterations to SOPs and, worse yet, that there is an undertaking to protect election malefactors at GECOM. In a Commission-supervised recount, as required by the court, stakeholders, the public and GECOM itself, by its own decision, the provision of the CEO’s copies should be a sine qua non for proceeding with the count of each ballot box, for every district, if transparency and integrity are to be retrieved at GECOM.
(3) Presence of the Auditor General’s Office, or an approved audit firm, to observe the recount exercise. This proposal was shot down on an astonishing remark “……what will the auditor do?” The incredulous responses to this remark were ignored, and a key resort to enhancing transparency went out the window.
(4) Duration of recount to be 14 days. This proposal was not accepted and a nebulous 25-day period was adopted, even when the CARICOM High Level Team had originally indicated that they would be available for two weeks. It is notable that the team included the top election officials for three CARICOM states, who should have an idea of how long a recount, even in Guyana’s circumstances, should reasonably take. My own timings and simulations of a box recount, indicate that two ballot boxes per hour should be completed on average, for the numbers we have at hand, which more than justifies our 14-day proposal. There is no guarantee that the 25-day duration would not be exceeded, given the truculent attitude and dilatory behaviour, exhibited by key members of the Commission’s Secretariat, and the complicated arrangements they propose for the recount.
(5) Exclusion of Compromised Staffers from active participation in the recount process. Here again, a position was adopted that only RO Mingo would be excluded. This suggests that for the fraudulent Region Four process — whose notoriety was captured and documented in national and international print, social media, videos and in the presence of stakeholders and observers, who have all documented variously the infamous events — that Mingo acted alone and without directions, instructions and cover and, also, without assistance and enablers! This is far from the truth and the personalities are known. I listed for the benefit of the Commission, much to the obvious discomfiture of some present, the names of 17 persons, who are known and are otherwise alleged, to have participated, actively, in the fiasco. The list is not exhaustive. It could not be that the prime known suspects should be allowed to resume similar or related activities at the recount, thereby holding out the real possibility that they will again resort to their now-known, nefarious predilections, in relation to election activities. Any remaining semblance of transparency would be irretrievably lost were this to be the case!
(6) Recount be conducted, strictly in accordance with the Representation of the People Act, Sections 84(6) to (11), 87, 89(1) and 90 as far as practicable. This formulation was not adopted. It appears that the opportunity is being allowed for, to carry out an election audit rather than a recount, thereby providing for further delay in arriving at a final credible result.
(7) That the recount commences with District 1 and 4, simultaneously, to their completion before proceeding with any others. This approach, which was envisaged to bring an early resolution, in respect of what should be the true declared results for District 4, was not adopted. A decision was taken to count District 4, in parallel with the others, resulting in a delay in the determination of the true results for District 4. Sinister, perhaps, is the assignment by the secretariat districts to count stations as follows: District 1- Two (2); District 2-Two (2); District 3-Three (3); District 4-Three (3). An approach, which obviously fits in with the scheme to delay the results for District 4 to the very end of the process. This approach poses the challenges and risks resulting from real, contrived confusion. The counting of several districts, in parallel, would result in multiple entries and removals from more than two (2) containers and would present tracking and reconciliation issues, to and from containers and to the count stations, to which they should be directed. A simpler scheme would be to count each district at all 10 stations in numerical order from District 1 to 10. This, also, does not pose problems with the preferred continuous projection display and tabulation of the SORs as they are generated.
(8) That the District 4 declaration and the consequent Report of the CEO be set aside, revoked, annulled, and be rescinded by GECOM. This was not agreed to! The Chair voted saying: “…..will not be set aside, until there is something to replace it…” This position I view as extremely unfortunate since, I believe, the court had ruled that the Mingo declaration be set aside. Non-removal of the Mingo declaration gives credence to it, as it still appears on GECOM’s website!
Beyond the above-stated motions, on issues related to the recount, there remain issues, arising out of the COVID-19 situation and the role of the police.
While it is plain that the pandemic is being exploited, with a view of delaying and disrupting the recount operations at political levels, it is, also, apparent that GECOM staffers and Health officials are misapplying the guidelines for a response towards preventing illness.
There is a recommendation to not use tents for more than 2 to 3 hours, citing the World Health Organization (WHO). No reference to the specific guideline from WHO on this was provided. Tents provide better airflow and allow better UV light penetration, which acts to kill the COVID-19 virus. More surprisingly, the Ministry of Health has established a Tent Hospital on the eastern side of the Georgetown Public Hospital. Why are the MOPH’s experts not following the very same advice they should have given to the ministry, which they are laying down for the recount process?
In addition, despite advising on the numbers of persons, who could be assigned to meeting room spaces at the Conference Centre, the health team has not provided parameters for their guidance, beyond stating separation distances of at least 3 feet, while wearing a mask. No data table is provided which relates to space available versus footprint required. This, again, ties in with a Secretariat plan to have no more than 10 stations for the recount!
The past role of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), during the fiascos at the Ashmin’s building, the Mingo Declaration under the shed in GECOM’s compound and at the intended recount at the Conference Centre; and the role envisaged for it in the proposed recount process, remains an issue of acute concern. The police have been, unlawfully, used to expel and deny access to Commissioners and stakeholders from facilities, dedicated for GECOM operations, to specifically deny continuous visual presence and accompaniment of ballot box containers and vehicles, and to threaten, (and) refuse to provide protection, assault and allow the menacing of certain Commissioners and stakeholders.
CEO Lowenfield has been insisting that each ballot box be accompanied by a policeman. While we have no objection to a policeman’s presence at or in each room dedicated for the recount, the presence of a policeman with every box, particularly if for logistical purposes a larger quantity of boxes has to be brought to and kept in a room for some time, say 20 boxes, it would mean that 20 policemen would have to be present in that room, possibly presenting an intimidating presence and violating the health guidelines. Police presence at the entrance and perimeter of the compound is welcomed, so as to ensure that only GECOM-accredited persons have access to the Conference Centre.
In closing, the current situation requires the dispassionate performance of constitutional and professional duties, “… without fear or favour …”, by all concerned, so that democratic governance is restored and, thereby, Guyana winning, which is what we all, I believe, desire!