COVID-19 requirements being abused to prevent scrutiny – GECOM Commissioner
PPP-nominated GECOM Commissioner Robeson Benn has expressed concerns and highlighted a situation wherein the requirements of the COVID-19 Task Force are being abused by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and used in a way that does not allow for maximum scrutiny of ballots and other materials during the recount.
“As has been feared, based on observations of the layouts and footprints of counting stations at the International Counting Centre, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) appears to be making maximum perverse use of the COVID-19 situation to keep stakeholders and observers remote from satisfactory direct observation and verification of the recount process for ballot boxes of the General and Regional Elections, 2020,” Commissioner Benn said in a letter to the editor.
Explaining his reasons for such a statement, Benn pointed to the logistics and layout of the recount venue. He noted that there is a two- trestle head table setup with a camera and screen, with four (4) seating places for staff. It was further related that the screen serves the purpose of projecting the packages, ballots and other materials. However, Benn pointed out, “…the distance to the first row of seats for stakeholders and observers is some fifteen (15) feet. The observed seating matrix is 3 by 4, making for the distance to the last row of seating from the table to be at least forty feet!”
This undermines the purpose of the screens, he continued to point out, “because the fixed camera capture area is relatively small to ascertain the true condition of packages, ballots, and the ultimate storage or fate of all items received and processed.
“One would have to continuously alter views between the screen and the table to keep track of disparate actions by the handlers at the distances on offer, to avoid any issue of claims of switching or insertions. And then a resort would have to be made to going up to the table to make certain that what was indeed said or displayed from afar is indeed true, leading to delays in the activity,” the Commissioner highlighted.
He accused GECOM of “utilising the misguided or, worse, malicious, guidance from the Ministry of Public Health.” GECOM, he stressed, is bent on enforcing a six (6) foot social distance requirement in a seating arrangement for stakeholders and observers who are equipped with the prescribed N95 masks, while the Secretariat’s staff at the head table are only operating within three (3) feet of each other.
The COVID-19 Task Force had submitted a report containing recommendations to GECOM on the social distancing protocols to be observed during the recount, especially given the large gathering of persons at one location at a time. It should be noted that the order generated by the Task Force in relation to social distancing specifies that “persons maintain a physical distance of at least six feet.”
“How does one justify, in the circumstances, the large separation distance between the counting table on one side and the stakeholders and observers on the other side?” Benn questioned.
The Commissioner is therefore calling for an urgent review of the operational setting and methodology in place, which he said is necessary to allay concerns and deliver a recount process “which meets high levels of transparency in all aspects.”