Taking the stand on Thursday during the Commission of Inquiry into the 2020 elections was GECOM’s Information Technology (IT) Manager, Aneal Giddings, who in charge of the Tabulation Centre, where the CEO’s copies of SOPs were being digitalised after being verified with certified copies from the various ROs across the country.
Giddings recalled that on March 5, 2020 at about 10:45h, he and his staff in the Tabulation Centre, which is separate from the area where the District Four votes were being reconciled, were informed that there was a bomb threat to the building and that they should evacuate.
The manager said they immediately complied with the exception of his deputy, who remained to back-up the data they had compiled thus far on a flash drive after which he also left.
While they were outside the building at a muster point, Giddings said he received a call from the then Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO), Roxanne Myers, asking if he processed a back-up and to handover the flash drive.
The manager noted that while the DCEO’s request was abnormal, he complied and handover the flash drive, which has been missing since.
He went onto recall that while they were still outside, he made a decision to return to the building to power off the server and remove it from facility for its protection. This, he explained, is in keeping with protocols outlined in GECOM’s IT Division Disaster Recovery Plan, which allows for the removal of servers from premises in certain situations.
He told the commission that a bomb threat was an appropriate situation to apply that protocol.
However, Gidding related that while in the process of removing the device, the DCEO entered the tabulation centre and after he informed her of what he was doing, Myers ordered him to leave the server in its place and evacuate the building.
“I removed it nonetheless… She was there and I think she witnessed me walking out with it… She was adamant. I think she repeated her instructions “Leave it! Leave it!” but I did not respond after that,” the witness recalled.
That server contained data on tabulation process that was ongoing. Giddings said Myers did not indicate why she wanted him to leave the server and that he had no time to enquire given the emergency of the situation.
The IT Manager said he then secured the server in his vehicle in the parking lot at Ashmin’s before returning to muster point opposite the building.
Shortly after, he received a call from the DCEO, who instructed him to return the server and power it back on.
“I enquired whether the building was clear of the threat. She repeated her instruction…No response [from her on whether the building was safe]. The instruction was repeated and then the call ended… I did not comply,” Gidding testified.
He went onto say that after sometime, he observed persons re-entering the building and went to enquire if it was clear of threat but was confronted by DCEO, who again hurled instructions at him to return the server.
At that point, Giddings said he saw the GECOM Chair, Ret’d Justice Claudette Singh, and sought her guidance. He said the Chair indicated that he should return to the building with the server and his staff, which he did.
The server was powered back up and while they were preparing to resume the tabulation process, the DCEO entered the room and announced that the process be halted since there was a breach of procedures.
“She informed the staff that there was a breach of protocol against the instructions of the Secretariat and that the server was removed from the facility, and the process will therefore be halted,” Giddings said.
He added that Myers then instructed the staff to go home, which they complied with except for himself and his deputy.
“After I observed the state of the centre – we would have had Statements of Poll… in various areas of the centre – and I don’t think that I could have simply walked out knowing that those documents were signed for my staff under my command and were not signed out to where it was intended to go. So, I felt the need to stick around and organize and categorize and secure those documents inclusive of the equipment and the data, the server so that I could leave the place in a state where I had no more involvement, and I was safe in my mind that these things were secured because these were Statements of Poll and data from statements of poll…[they were of] national and critical importance,” informed the Commission.
With regards to the server, Giddings explained that he placed masking tape around it and placed markings on it in such a way that it would be detected if someone were to tamper with the device.
But while in the process of doing his, another call was received from the DCEO who asked him if he was doing something unlawful with the SOPs.
“I said no, I was simply assembling them to be sent to her office… She responded very aggressively and said to leave the centre…that the Chief Accountant will come lock up the facility,” he indicated.
At that point, the IT Manager said he was almost complete with organising and securing the documents in the room so they finish off and left.
Giddings said when he returned to Ashmin’s Building the following morning, it was locked up and cordoned off with party representatives and observers standing outside. He then left to go to his office at GECOM’s head office in Kingston.
According to the IT Manager, he did not return to Ashmin’s until March 23, 2020 and upon entering the tabulation centre, “I had observed that several items were missing… I retrieved the remainder of the items that were there and when I returned to the headquarters, I wrote to the CEO informing him of my observations.”
Giddings said there were no responses from the CEO on this matter despite it being a serious occurrence. He added too that there were about 17 cameras in the centre but they were not installed by GECOM and therefore, he could not say the location of the footage.