In the past months, Guyanese have become more bewildered by the question: Who is in charge at GECOM?
We were of the opinion that, with all the imbroglio surrounding the appointment of the GECOM Chairman, it meant that the chairman would be the person in charge of GECOM; but, instead, it would seem that the Chief Elections Officer is the person in charge, and the Chairperson just abides by his decisions.
In February this year, it was reported that GECOM needed only 148 days to prepare for elections. According to Lowenfield, the Commission had to grant the Secretariat approval to go into election mode; and the Commission did not. However, by now we are all too keenly aware that the CCJ was used to delay the elections, so when it seemed that GECOM was all ready to go to the polls by July 2019, the decision of the CCJ had to be awaited. The Commission could not give the go-ahead without the CCJ’s rulings on the No-Confidence Motion.
The CEO had made it appear that he had a well-oiled GECOM machinery raring to go at that time.
In July this year, just before the CCJ’s decision that the NCM was successfully passed and that Patterson was illegally appointed, Lowenfield went into another delaying mode to support the APNU/AFC’s quest to defer the elections for as long as was possible. He no longer awaited the CCJ’s ruling, but embarked on the GECOM-backed delay by foisting the House-to-House Registration on the Guyanese electorate. This precipitated the call for another Court intervention and more delay. Lowenfield was in charge, and he made full use of his usurpation of the power of the Commission.
It must be recalled that the Private Sector Commission upbraided the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, for commencing and sanctioning ‘an unsanctioned and unverified’ House-to-House Registration exercise. However, Lowenfield was never sanctioned, and neither was he intimidated in any way. He was fulfilling the PNC’s directives!
In fact, he made it plain by his action that he was in charge, even after the appointment of the new Chairperson, Justice Claudette Singh.
Then, in complete defiance of the HTH Registration, it was reported on July 24th that Lowenfield admitted that the Official List of Voters which expired on April 30th, 2019 can still be used to execute free and fair General and Regional Elections — going back to what he had said in February.
Then, in regard to the abortion of the HTH exercise, Lowenfield pushed the GECOM field staff to work overtime in an effort to extend the life of the HTH. It was clear that new registrants became the prime target for this extension. In many areas, eligible voters who are deemed PPP supporters were bypassed by GECOM staff.
Again, at the beginning of October, just before the start of the Claims and Objections period, Lowenfield unilaterally extended the Claims and Objections period to 49 days, and then to 42 days from the agreed 35 days. He claimed that he did that ‘in the interest of giving the electorate more time to have their claims and objections sorted out’. Even though the Chair had promised to correct the period to 35 days, it never materialized, prompting Commissioner Shadick to conclude, ‘We have another Chairman, who is going against decisions of the Commission…’
This brings me to the million-dollar question: What is Chairperson Claudette Singh doing? Is she incompetent? Or is she giving Lowenfield free rein to do the PNC’s biddings? I simply cannot comprehend that, until now, she is unable to come to grips with the basics at GECOM, despite holding umpteen meetings and being apprised of all the issues.
She is not a novice in election matters, if I could recall.
Now there is the decision to publish the list of registrants captured during the recently concluded HTH registration. PPP-nominated Commissioners are adamant that no such decision was taken by the full commission.
Whose handiwork is this, if not Lowenfield’s again? Even the PNC Commissioner has now made a call for Justice Singh to take a stand on certain matters. She unilaterally aborted the HTH registration, but opened a can of worms when she retained the data collected and decided to ‘merge’ it with what is already there. This will again result in delay.
The Opposition had, in September, also called on Justice Singh to put an end to the ‘prevarications’, and at some point in time she will have to make tough decisions. Well, that time is now, rather than later.
It will not surprise me if there is a twist to the March 2nd Elections date!