Revised electoral laws intended to tighten electoral process, rectify deficiencies – Nandlall

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Attorney General Anil Nandlall

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall has stated that the ongoing reform of the electoral laws in Guyana is intended to tighten the legal process and to rectify the deficiencies that led to the five-month impasse following last year’s March 2 elections.

During his weekly social media programme – Issues In The News, Nandlall said that a unit within the AG Chambers is currently working hard on completing a draft of the revised legislation.

“The issues have been identified and the sections of the law that are to be impacted or affected by the reforms have been identified and the process now has begun where the drafting of the proposed amendments are being done as well as new regulations, where possible, are being made,” he noted.

The Attorney General pointed out that these reforms are not intended to create any electoral advantage in favour of any political party.

Instead, he said “They are all intended to tighten our legal process, to tighten the laws as well as to rectify all the deficiencies we have seen exploited by the likes of [embattled Returning Officer Clairmont] Mingo and [Chief Elections Officer Keith] Lowenfield at the last elections. So that in future elections, we ought not to have such reoccurrence. So, all the lacunas, all the gaps, all the ambiguities, all the areas that were cause for concerns and cast doubts in people’s minds, we are going to clarify all of that in the law. So, the law should be very clear.”

It was previously reported that the Representation of the People Act (RoPA), which contains laws specific to the conduct of elections and election-related issues in Guyana, is being ironed out to remove ambiguous provisions and include penalties for persons attempting to carry out electoral fraud.

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had said that a draft Amendment Bill is likely to be in place by the “end of June” following which it will be sent to the various political parties including the APNU/AFC Opposition, civil society bodies, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and the international community. It will also be available for the public to give their input before it is finalised and presented in the National Assembly, where again it will be debated upon by both the Government and parliamentary Oppositions.

But the Attorney General contended that there can be the best laws and best regulatory framework in place but it will not work if there are persons in the system who want to breach or violate it in order to commit fraud and rig the elections.

He was making reference to CEO Lowenfield, his deputy Roxanne Myers and Mingo, who along with other GECOM staff are currently before the courts facing electoral fraud charges from last year’s polls.

Mingo had heavily inflated the figures from Region Four – Guyana’s largest voting district – to give the APNU/AFC coalition a lead over the PPP/C. Meanwhile, Lowenfield with the support of Myers presented false figures to the GECOM Commission for declaration as official results of the elections.

“The law is not unclear, Mingo knew [what he had to do]. Mingo has been a Returning Officer for three elections and he knows that he must use the Statements of Poll as the basis for tabulation yet he refused to do that. Lowenfield knows that the report he is to prepare must reflect the votes cast in the ballot boxes and he can’t simply prepare a report of his own. Lowenfield knows that. Lowenfield was CEO in 2015 and he did the right thing [then]… So, it’s not that they don’t know. They deliberately did the wickedness that we saw them do. So, the point I am making is that we can have the best law in place but if you have bandits and thieves in the system then the best laws will not work,” Nandlall posited.

On this note, the Attorney General noted that an important component of the reforms must be the hiring process at the Elections Commission.

“That must also be the subject of reform – the vetting process by GECOM. How do you get a job at GECOM? What qualifications one must have? And what is the quality control mechanism that one must have in hiring, and who should be hiring. So, these are all questions that we will have to work out,” he asserted.

Already, the pro-Government GECOM Commissioners have tabled three motions to have Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo removed from the Elections Secretariat in light of their actions following the March 2020 polls.

According to Nandlall, these senior GECOM officials should have already been removed.

“In any other society, in any normal society, a motion or motions ought not to have been required for the dismissal of these three miscreants. The world saw what they did, we saw what they did, courts ruled, condemning what they did and declaring what they did as illegal and unlawful. In those circumstances, they ought to have been dismissed without cause instantaneously upon the declaration of the [elections] results. But Guyana is not a normal place and GECOM is not a normal institution,” he asserted.

The GECOM Chair, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, has given Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo 14 days to respond to the allegations in the respective motions filed against them. A date is likely to be set thereafter for the motions to be heard and debated at the level of the seven-member Elections Commission. [This article was first published in the Guyana Times]