GECOM Chair’s rejection of commissioners’ motions “incredulous” – former AG

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…says tainting recount with partiality, unfairness

…motions were designed to increase transparency

Executive Member of Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Anil Nandlall has described the Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission, Retired Justice Claudette Singh’s rejection of several motions tabled by the Opposition-nominated Commissioners as incredulous.

GECOM Commissioner, Sase Gunraj tabled 10 motions on behalf of the PPP/C to ensure transparency in the pending recount of the March 2 votes. However, the GECOM Chair used her tie-breaking vote to throw out the motions.

Among the 10 resolutions tabled by the Opposition Commissioner are for the release of Statements of Poll (SoPs) from Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) where fraudulent declarations were made by embattled Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo. The party also wanted the Audit Office or a private audit firm to monitor the recount and the process to be live-streamed for the public and international observers as well as for GECOM to set aside the fraudulent declarations by Mingo and the report subsequently prepared by Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield to the Commission, among others.

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall

However, Nandlall in a statement on Saturday said that “Justice Claudette Singh’s justifications for rejecting our ten motions, put by PPP Commissioners at the last GECOM meeting, are simply incredulous”.

He pointed out that following the crude fraud perpetrated by Mingo in relation to the Region Four results, the motions were all intended to bring “greater transparency, oversight, public scrutiny, greater dispatch” – aggregating to add significant credibility and integrity to the recount process.

Conveniently relying on Section 90

In an interview with the State’s newspaper, the GECOM Chair defended her decision to throw out the motions, saying that since a recount is underway, the release of the SoPs will not serve any purpose and that Section 90 of the Representation of the People Act provides for secrecy of the tabulation of ballots, hence she cannot allow live streaming of the recount process.

But according to Nandlall, who is a former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Justice Singh’s reliance on Section 90 of the Representation of the People Act to reject the party’s proposal to live stream the process is as convenient as it is preposterous.

GECOM Chair, Retired Justice Claudette Singh

He noted that while the Chairperson conveniently relied on Section 90 in her rejection of the motions, the recount is being done under Section 22 of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act and Article 162 (1) (b) of the Constitution – both of which empower GECOM to issue such instructions and take such actions as appear to it necessary and expedient to ensure impartiality and fairness.

“Would the live streaming of the process and the other proposals contained in the nine other motions not enhance impartiality and fairness? In fact, in rejecting those proposals the Chairperson herself is tainting the process with partiality and unfairness. Significantly, the Chairperson herself in her written submissions to the court highlighted the importance of GECOM and the electoral process enjoying public confidence so that the election results would be accepted by all,” he posited.

The PPP Executive went on to point out that it is no secret that public confidence in the Elections Commission and its staff is at an all-time low given the events that followed the March 2 polling day and persists some seven weeks after.

“The truth is that a majority of the electorate does not trust GECOM. After what transpired, there is sound basis for this mistrust. The live streaming of the process would contribute tremendously to boosting public confidence in the process,” Nandlall stated.

He went on to stress, “After what Mingo did and the Chairperson’s repeated public commitment to act fairly and transparently, how can she reject a proposal to allow the Audit Office of Guyana or a private audit firm to aid and scrutinise the exercise, but rather choose to support highly toxic persons from the Secretariat whose conduct have been condemned by all the observer teams,  to conduct the recount exercise. It is difficult to defend an argument that she is not part of the same design.”

Moreover, the former AG contended that the Chair’s justification for throwing out the proposal that sought the release of the SoPs to GECOM Commissioners is equally baffling. He outlined that the documents are not the private property of Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, who is in possession of the documents.

According to Nandlall, the Commissioners have a legal entitlement to them. He added that these documents are not secret since they were posted at polling places across the country after the ballots were counted.

“As Chairperson of the Commission, is Justice Singh not even curious to see what those SoPs say in relation to the fabricated spreadsheet which Mingo used as the basis of his tabulation? This must be boggling to the rational mind. The same arguments apply, a fortiori to her refusal to have Region Four ballots counted off early rather than stretch it until the end of the exercise,” he asserted.

Against this backdrop, the PPP Executive further stated that it is imperative that the GECOM Chair reconsiders her position lest the recount process evoke greater controversy than it was intended to resolve.

Only on Friday, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said that Justice’s Singh rejection of the PPP’s motion has revealed “where she stands” to the public.