APNU/AFC COVID-19 Task Force stymies GECOM’s bid to meet recount deadline

Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on Monday met to discuss measures aimed at increasing the number of ballot boxes being counted each day at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC) during the recount of votes cast on March 2, last but a decision is still to be taken.

GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj

This is, in part, as a result of the failure of the National coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force to provide its report advising on whether the Commission should establish the two additional counting stations to supplement the 12 in operation currently. The original timeframe for the recount is 25 days.
People’s Progressive Party/Civic-nominated GECOM Commissioner, Sase Gunraj briefed reporters encamped in the makeshift media centre outside of the ACCC venue following the meeting and lamented the stalemate.
He told reporters that the Commission has recognised a need to identify a definitive end for the recount process and “in getting there efficiently.”
“What I believe was agreed on today [Monday] is for a need to have some definitive end to this process and in getting there, that the efficiency that we are currently operating at needs to be improved and improved significantly.”
Gunraj told reporters he is of the view that if GECOM were to go ahead and set up the additional workstations independent of the Task Force report then the electoral body would not be in breach of any local laws.
“I don’t believe that they will be in breach of any laws of provision of any law if we are to go ahead and establish the station without the report,” he said.
GECOM, in the execution of the recount exercise, has been doing so keeping with the guidelines that have been previously issued along with those identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Gunraj told reporters
The PPP/C Commissioner disclosed that GECOM has, in fact, hired a company specifically for sanitisation of the facilities and measures such as social distancing and the wearing of marks are being ‘peer policed.’
As such, he posited “we are following the guidelines, and perhaps exceeding those, so there is nothing stopping us from putting in two new stations.”

Maximum benefit, efficiency
Briefing the press corps, on the Commission meeting, Gunraj disclosed that it was recognised that several of the processes being employed “are not operating with maximum benefit and with maximum efficiency and as a consequence, we have agreed to take steps in relation to speeding up that.”
These, he said, include among other things, the addition of new workstations. “I maintain that it is the singular most important factor in improving the pace at which this process will be concluded.”
He drew reference to the fact that with the inclusion of two new workstations this past week—upping the initial number from ten to 12—there was an increase in the number of ballot boxes being counted per day, “and I believe that with the addition of more stations that the number [of boxes counted per day] can rise and rise significantly.”
Gunraj reminded that several locations have already been identified at ACCC and without the feedback from the COVID-19 Task Force “we know what the guidelines are, we know what the extent of the facility here is, I believe that we just need to go ahead and implement them.”
He conceded nonetheless that the views expressed were personal and not a Commission position.
GECOM’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Yolanda Ward, in announcing the decision to confer with the Task Force last week, had indicated that this was done “being cognisant that it is of national importance that this recount exercise concludes as quickly as possible, it is the intention of the Chairperson to write to the National Task Force, again, to seek their reconsideration for an additional two workstations.”
According to Ward, “we seek permission, as well as for an assessment to be done to determine the risk involved in the establishment such.”
She conceded that the Commission had identified at least two additional proposed locations to the Task Force last week, but these would have been turned down.
Defending the Commission’s resort to the Task Force as against invoking its independence as is being touted by many, Ward told reporters “we also need to be cognisant that we cannot, while constitutionally the Commission operates in an autonomous way, we cannot operate in isolation and not being cognisant of other factors that could affect our operations; we have to be conscious that we are dealing with a health situation.”