Guyana must decide on removal of rogue elements at GECOM – EU EOM

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Head of EU EOM Urmas Paet

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) on Friday presented its final report on the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections in Guyana and Head of the Mission, Urmas Paet related that the removal of rogue elements from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) lies solely with the Government and people of Guyana.

Paet made the disclosure after being asked whether the EOM thinks that errant elections officials should be removed before Guyana hosts another election.

“We make recommendations for changes in your legal, technical and practical environment. We are not here to say who is capable to do which job in this country. It is up to Guyanese people and your Government to decide,” he said.

He added that the Mission does not focus on “concrete persons or concrete personalities” relating that it is up to the structures to decide. He explained that once their recommendations are made then the relevant agencies could analyse and modify the system to better serve their mandate.

Based on the report, the legal framework provides a reasonable basis for competitive elections in Guyana, but numerous gaps and ambiguities create legal uncertainty and reduce transparency. It explained that the electoral laws are fragmented and unconsolidated, and court decisions are not easily accessible.

It related that with confidence in GECOM already undermined by limited inclusiveness and transparency, post-election developments exposed a dysfunctional Commission unable to control its own Secretariat.

“The Commission’s deliberations, decisions, instructions and essential electoral data were not accessible to the public. The lack of institutional engagement with election stakeholders contributed to most political parties being left out and the general public being underinformed. The bipartisan composition of the Commission resulted in excessive polarisation, affecting its ability to function as a collegiate body, and at times to function at all,” it stated.

Disproportionate discretion

The EU EOM team said that GECOM’s inability to reach common ground and take timely decisions gave its Secretariat disproportionate discretion over the administration of the elections.

“By failing to take decisive action as the electoral process derailed into chaos and illegality, GECOM abdicated its constitutional duty to take all actions necessary to ensure compliance with the law by any of its officials, despite unequivocal powers to remove and exercise disciplinary control over them,” the EOM found.

Revisiting the events of March 2, 2020, the EU EOM said that voting was well managed and largely peaceful. Polling procedures were properly followed, despite the inconsistent application of some procedural safeguards. Counting was conducted in a transparent manner, but reconciliation procedures were not always followed, leading to some minor difficulties in the preparation of results protocols.

Referring to the events that caused the electoral process to descend into chaos, the EU EOM stated that after a transparent, largely uncontested tabulation was completed in most regions, the process abruptly derailed into chaos and confusion amidst obstruction tactics by election officials in decisive Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica).

On March 5, 2020, embattled Returning Officer (RO) Clairmont Mingo declared results without having tabulated them in the presence of party agents and observers as required by law. After these results were annulled by acting Chief Justice Roxane George as unlawful, GECOM still allowed him to rush through the rest of the tabulation without any transparency in blatant violation of the law and explicit court orders, and to make a second declaration of unverified results on March 13.

“The results declared by the RO on 13 March are not credible. These results gave APNU/AFC and PPP/C 136,057 and 77,231 votes respectively for the General Elections in Region Four, enough for the ruling coalition to overcome the opposition’s advantage in the other regions and take the lead nationally. Supported by the online publication of almost all Region Four polling station results protocols, PPP/C’s parallel tabulation suggested the opposite outcome. It gave the ruling coalition and the opposition 114,416 and 80,150 votes respectively in the region, thus placing PPP/C ahead nationally,” the report stated in the summary of its findings.

Among its list of 26 recommendations, the EU EOM said that a national consultation process to overhaul the composition and functioning of the Elections Commission, notably to ensure a more inclusive representation of the various components of the Guyanese society and political spectrum. It added that GECOM needs to adopt clear written procedures for the transmission and tabulation of election results, notably to ensure consistency of the process in all regions, adequate traceability of handed over electoral documents, and the possibility for all authorised stakeholders to examine SoPs as required by law.

In the aftermath of the controversial five-month-long elections, a number of high-ranking GECOM officials have been investigated by the Police and charged for misconduct in public office and forgery.
They include Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, who on October 12, 2020, was slapped with six charges by the Police relating to forgery and misconduct in public office pertaining to his alleged role in the attempts to rig the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.

The CEO is being accused of attempting to undermine the will of the people by repeatedly refusing to submit the verified results from the National Recount to Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice Claudette Singh, for a final declaration.
There are also electoral fraud charges against Deputy CEO Roxanne Meyers, GECOM clerks Denise Bob-Cummings and Michelle Miller and GECOM Elections Officer Shefern February and Information Technology Officer Enrique Livan.

Mingo, PNCR Chairperson Volda Lawrence and APNU/AFC’s activist Carol Joseph and are also before the court for electoral fraud.

The National Recount exercise showed that the PPP/C won the elections with 233,336 votes. But Lowenfield had repeatedly refused to submit his final elections report with those figures, despite being so directed by the GECOM Chair on several occasions. However, he did submit unverified figures that would have given APNU/AFC the win.