GECOM was not hands-on enough with Opposition’s LGE complaints- Dr Jeffrey

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Dr Henry Jeffrey

The Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) handling of the compliant filed by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) as it relates to the backers’ lists for the Local Government Elections (LGE) has been criticised.

“I would have expected GECOM to take a more hands-on approach or attitude and try to, once things are found out, deal with them in a legal and sensible way,” said Political analyst, Dr Henry Jeffrey, who noted that the approach taken by GECOM was not the best, as he believes the issue could have been dealt with more skillfully.

Nevertheless, he said all parties should await a decision, as the matter was now before the courts.

The former Government Minister also suggested that the concerns raised by the PPP were valid and spoke to a culture that was ingrained in society.

He said it was not unexpected of the PPP to bring this matter to the attention of GECOM and the courts.

He believes that there would continue to be more electoral matters ahead of LGE and beyond, heading into 2020 when the General Election was constitutionally due.

Dr Jeffrey said this would test the credibility and autonomy of GECOM to deliver free and fair elections.

“It is definitely ingrained in our culture, but it wasn’t unexpected … I don’t think they (GECOM) were hands-on enough on that matter and I am not at all certain that this issue could be resolved amicably without the intervention of the courts,” he added.

The PPP through one of its constituency candidates in Berbice had filed legal proceedings against GECOM and an individual to have the names fraudulently affixed to the backers’ lists for LGE in the Ancient County (Berbice) removed.

Shafraz Beekham was named applicant, with the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield and Orlando Christopher Persaud as the respondents.

The document outlines that the challenge is seeking to have the names of 49 other electors appearing on the list of backers in support of the Alliance For Change (AFC) constituency candidates removed.

It noted that the submission was made to Persaud on September 21, 2018, in Whim Bloomfield, Berbice Local Authority Area (LAA), for the LGE 2018. The PPP is challenging on the grounds that the said decision is unlawful, illegal, and unreasonable and is in violation of the Local Authorities (Elections) Act.

The document also cites Persaud’s alleged refusal to withdraw the applicant’s name and the names of 49 other electors. It said unless the names were withdrawn, the election in the LAA would be tainted with “illegality and fraud”. It also noted that Persaud’s refusal happened before the deadline on September 26, 2018.

Moreover, GECOM CEO Lowenfield, who mysteriously disappeared on the day of the deadline and could not be reached by any of the PPP-appointed GECOM Commissioners was still being questioned.

Former Speaker and Attorney-at-Law Ralph Ramkarran, S.C

Although the CEO claimed that his lawyer was his alibi for him being unavailable for hours prior to the deadline for nominators’ names to be removed from disputed lists, former House Speaker and columnist Ralph Ramkarran also questioned his disappearance.

He wrote in his weekly column, Conversation Tree, “Did it have to be on this particular day that Mr Lowenfield had to attend his lawyer’s chambers to sign an affidavit, a process that takes no more than an hour, counting the travelling time from GECOM’s High Street Office to the Attorney General’s Chambers in Carmichael Street, a ten-minute drive away?”

Ramkarran said disappearing acts of election officials or being out of touch at critical moments of the elections process have a particularly sordid history. “For the future, it is hoped that at important junctures the Chief Elections Officer will be available at all times, day and night, to his senior staff, Election Commissioners and the Chairman.”

He argued that Returning Officers (ROs) should be similarly available to selected officials of contesting parties and be helpful rather than obstructive. Their duty, he reminded, is to solve problems, not to create them, and to exercise flexibility and discretion in removing obstacles to the smooth flow of the elections process, without violating any law.

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