OPINION: Attack on Judges and assault on GECOM must be condemned

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The following is an opinion piece by Vishnu Bisram

In the Court of Appeal matter, the coalition has asked for the recount of votes be set aside and not used in the declaration of the March 2 elections. Instead, it asked the court to instruct GECOM to use the fraudulent Mingo count for a declaration.

Mingo’s March 4, 6, and 13 fraudulent counts were all set aside by the High Court and the CCJ. Mingo was ordered by the court to redo the March 6 count according to established practices. He defied the court and produced fraudulent numbers on March 13. Mingo committed double felony on March 6 and 13. He was charged for contempt and saved by GECOM Chair, who committed to the court that there would be a recount that would replace the count.

The fact that the fraudulent count was kept in abeyance was meaningless because the Chair swore in an affidavit that the recount replaces the count. The Chair had to abide by the affidavit or face contempt. It was formally discarded in early July after CEO Lowenfield insisted on using the fraudulent count to prepare the final result. He disrespected the High Court, CCJ and GECOM and must not only be brought on criminal charges but contempt also.

The coalition’s argument that the count was valid and the recount invalid is without merit. A recount is generally undertaken when there is doubt about a count and a recount automatically replaces a count. To not use the recount is to waste the effort of the interlocutors. It would also be an assault on GECOM that has the power to determine what numbers to use in declaring an election unless directed otherwise by a court.

The recount was completed and naturally replaces the count. There is no need for further action on a count. The CEO’s other submissions were rejected by GECOM and the courts. Lowenfield was wrong. And he is subjected to the authority of GECOM as he is a subordinate staff and he must carry out the Chair ‘s order as per the guidance of the commission.

To erase doubts that the recount replaces the count, GECOM (Chair) formally discarded the count that was kept in abeyance. Earlier, the CCJ also ruled that the recount replaced the count and recount must be the basis for the preparation and declaration of the results.

The count was fraudulent and condemned by the international community. The President, David Granger, moved to Caricom on March 13 to undertake a recount under its monitoring. The opposition agreed and GECOM assented. The recount was spearheaded by a Caricom high-level team under the circumspect watch of international observers.

The coalition never objected to the recount or stated it was illegal. After court shenanigans, an agreement was reached on April 4 and after further delays, the recount began on May 6. When GECOM took the decision for the recount, Government election Commissioners were on board. From May 6 to June 8, all Government Commissioners participated at all levels and never questioned the recount or the order of May 29 to extend the days. The coalition partook in the recount exercises to its completion and never objected to it.

The Caricom team and GECOM announced the results at the end of May and said they are a credible basis for the declaration of the results. GECOM Commissioners never objected or went to court to challenge it. GECOM embraced its results in a majority vote announcing the numbers to the world.

In June the coalition did not challenge recount order in court. They only sought a definition of the term more votes cast and the court added the word valid which was struck down by the CCJ. ROPA already defined a valid vote just to belabour the point. It is the height of stupidity to ask a court to disregard a recount.

In no country is a recount rejected. A count can never replace a recount that is superior to a count. No politician anywhere ever asked that a recount be rejected and be replaced by the count as the basis for the declaration of an election outcome; they fear they would be the subjects of ridicule. Guyanese (coalition) politicians and their lawyers are amongst the first to make such a request and not be embarrassed.

Separately, Guyanese in NY join the chorus of condemnation of unwarranted attacks by Government supporters and Commissioners on a Judge on account of her ethnicity and on lawyer Kim Kyte and GECOM Chair Claudette Singh for following the law on declaration of election results.

Judge Roxane George also came in for attacks for dismissing the petition to have the count be used as a basis for the declaration. The attacks on these key judicial figures are dangerous in the extreme. It is an attack on judicial independence and a contempt of court by some.

Critiques against judicial figures are fine but there must be zero tolerance on personal attacks and threats against judicial figures. The attacks on Judge Priya Sewnarine Beharry are also indecent, disrespectful, and racial. Racial slurs against Judge Beharry or against anyone must be condemned.

The general feel amongst Guyanese is that the kind of personal attacks on any Judge or the Chair or Ms Kyte is unwarranted and does not help lawful authority. Also, it does not help to build jurisprudence, and it contributes to tensions.

It is wrong to impugn the well-established reputation of Judge Priya Sewnarine Beharry.

The attack on the Judge is meant to exert undue influence on the Judiciary, which in itself would undermine the rule of law and disrupt the system of checks and balances on the Executive and Legislative branches. It would be a return to the darkest days of Burnhamism when Judges ruled as per the instruction of the kabaka. Judges could not dissent from his dictates or else the consequences were severe. Anyone who dared to oppose Burnhamism was an enemy of the State to be dealt with severely. Some many of us were victims.

In a conversation I had with lawyers who appeared before her, Judge Priya Sewnarine Beharry is not the kind who compromises integrity. Judge Beharry has a reputation of impartiality and fairness and toughness. Guyanese are confident that she knows that 33 is a majority of 65 and that only valid votes are counted in an election. She would not make embarrassing judgements that would be struck down by the CCJ.

Guyanese lawyers and the diaspora believe she writes her own judgements and not lawyers who are party to a dispute.

Judge Roxane is also praised for her recent judicial independence since the CCJ struck down her judgement in the Granger’s unilateral appointment of Patterson as GECOM Chair.

I note Claudette is also unjustly attacked. She is a respected former Judge of the High Court of adjudicature. She has maintained decorum, integrity, and transparency that comes with the job. She complies with the law and the Constitution. Attacks on her must stop and be condemned by all right-thinking people.