Attempts to rig 2020 elections: “Delicate balance” needed for CoI – President Ali

With the Guyana Government going ahead with a Commission of Inquiry into the attempts to rig the March 2020 General and Regional Elections, President Dr Irfaan Ali has outlined the need for a “delicate balance” given that several cases relating to this matter are currently pending in the courts.
Speaking with reporters recently, the Head of State explained that despite these pending court matters, Government had promised a CoI into the 2020 elections hence he still went ahead to announce the probe to deliver on that commitment.

President Dr Irfaan Ali

“I came under criticism for not bringing the CoI into operation… [But] it is difficult to have the CoI running concurrently with an ongoing criminal case. So, now you have to find that delicate balance to satisfy all of what is ongoing. The team is now working on documents to ensure that the ToRs (Terms of Reference), while all-encompassing, does not interfere with the court case,” the President pointed out.
Only last Monday, the Guyanese leader told reporters that the ToR for the CoI must be in-depth and deal with all the issues that surrounded the conduct of the elections, according to President Dr Irfaan Ali.
President Ali noted that it is important that the scope of the ToR – which will set out the task and jurisdiction of the Commission – is all encompassing. However, he could not give a definitive timeframe for when the CoI would be ready to begin.
“The names are now out there. So, the commissioners… the Chairman, I’m sure. I spoke to him a week ago. They are now working together, talking to each other and crystalising the Terms of Reference.”
“The Terms of Reference have to be in keeping with all the issues around the elections… this is a process with the commissioners. So, I won’t be able to give you the date now (for the start of the CoI). But definitely work has started,” the posited.

Long-awaited CoI
Last month, President Ali had announced the long-awaited CoI. The inquiry will be chaired by Retired Justice of Appeal Stanley John of the Turks and Caicos Islands. The other members are former Attorney General, High Court Judge, and acting Justice of Appeal in the Eastern Caribbean, Justice Godfrey P Smith, SC; former Chair and Chief Elections Commissioner of India, Dr S Y Quraishi; and former acting Chancellor of Guyana’s Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh.
Additionally, it has been noted that former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Dr Nasim Zaidi; and Ghanian Election Administrator Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, who was appointed a Commonwealth Advisor to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) leading up to the 2020 elections, will both serve as resource personnel to the CoI.
Since the announcement of the CoI, stakeholders from several sections of society have noted the importance of a comprehensive inquiry into the elections, which resulted in an over five-month delay before President Ali could be finally sworn-in on August 2, 2020.
In fact, Chairman of the Private Sector Commission Paul Cheong had welcomed the inquiry and the chance it presents to better understand what happened and strengthen institutions including the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). Cheong also said that the CoI could also play a part in holding those who attempted to delay the elections, accountable.

Tumultuous five months
Following a largely smooth polling day on March 2, 2020, Guyana was thrown into a tumultuous five-month political and electoral impasse after the then incumbent APNU/AFC regime attempted to steal the election.
It was found during a subsequent national recount process that former Returning Officer for Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Clairmont Mingo had heavily inflated the votes in favour of the coalition party.
Since the election fiasco unfolded, several persons that served within the apparatus of GECOM have already been charged with electoral fraud. These include former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, former Deputy CEO Roxanne Myers, former PNCR Minister Volda Lawrence, and Mingo, among others.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to further strengthen GECOM to prevent a reoccurrence of the 2020 election fiasco and restore public confidence in the entity, the Guyana Government has proposed a series of amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA).
Those changes were released for public consultation before the document is finalised and taken to the National Assembly.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration had said it wanted to have the widest possible engagement with stakeholders including the various political parties on the proposed amendments to RoPA.
But the only political party to make recommendations on the proposed RoPA changes is the A New and United Guyana (ANUG) – one of the new parties formed to contest the 2020 elections. Additionally, Opposition-nominated GECOM Commissioner, Charles Corbin has also made a submission.
An overhaul of the country’s electoral laws can see, among other things, the Chief Elections Officer at GECOM facing as much as life imprisonment for committing fraud, while others can similarly face hefty fines and jail time for any related offence.
Moreover, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, had disclosed in May that Government is finalising a second set of amendments that will be released to the public soon. These new reforms are proposed changes to the Registration Act.
The PPP/C Administration is looking to put in place laws that would allow the Election Commission to transparently remove the names of dead persons from the voters’ list, amid concerns of it being bloated.
The proposed methodology would see these changes to the list being done on a large scale starting with the Chief Election Officer obtaining a list of all the dead people for every year as well as historically. These names will have to be shared publicly before they are removed from the voters’ list.
Back in August 2019, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George had ruled that GECOM cannot deregister persons from the National Register of Registrants (NRR) – from which voters’ list is compiled – unless they are dead or otherwise disqualified under Article 159 (2), (3) and (4) of the Constitution. (G3)