Deafening silence from APNU/AFC’s COVID-19 Task Force
GECOM’s additional counting stations
…GECOM must stop deferring to partisan Task Force – Jagdeo
The National COVID-19 Task Force is yet to provide the requisite advice to the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) for the increase in the number of workstations to speed up the ongoing national election recount of ballots cast in the March 2 General and Regional Elections.
This information was related by caretaker Public Health Minister, Volda Lawrence during an interaction with the media following a meeting with GECOM on Saturday.
Lawrence sought to lay blame for the deafening silence from the COVID-19 Task Force on the National Health Emergency Committee, claiming that they have to meet to decide what advice should be given to GECOM and then that advice would be forwarded to the NCTF and then the Commission would be informed.
When asked about the politicisation of the NCTF, Lawrence said that everyone on the Task Force serves a unique purpose, noting that every person there serves as the liaison for certain sectors. She added that Guyana is not safe right now with regards to this pandemic.
No permission needed
But while Lawrence sought to blame her juniors for the current standstill on the additional workstations, GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj noted that despite the principles of the NCTF, ie Lawrence and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Harmon, meeting with the Commission on Saturday, they failed to at least update GECOM on the progress of its request.
GECOM made a decision to increase the number of counting stations from 10 and would have written to the NCTF seeking guidance on whether this would have been possible. Since then, a team from the Public Health Ministry visited the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, Liliendaal, to assess the space to see if that request could have been accommodated.
It has been almost five days since GECOM first requested guidance and they are yet to receive word from the NCTF.
“None of those person, either jointly or separately has indicated to the Guyana Elections Commission – a constitutional body which has made a request to that Task Force for guidance in relation to the setting up of new workstations which will lead to greater timeliness and efficiency in this process up to now. It has been two days and more since the members of the Public Health team came and visited and we are waiting and waiting and waiting.
“I daresay I am tempted to make a very cavalier submission to the Commission but which is in keeping with my own view on it is that we should establish the workstations with or without because no decision or no advice. Because 48 hours later is tantamount to no decision or refusal and I believe that we have it in our power to set it up because we are following more than is expected the COVID-19 guidelines,” Gunraj related.
Even as the partisan National COVID-19 Task Force continues to drag its feet to grant approval for additional workstations for the recount, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has urged GECOM to stop acting in a subservient manner to the NCTF.
During a virtual press conference on Saturday, Jagdeo called out the COVID-19 Task Force for stymieing GECOM’s recount exercise. According to Jagdeo, as a constitutional agency, the Commission does not need approval from the COVID-19 Task Force to do its job.
“They need to stop kowtowing to them and make a decision and forge ahead with the recount. And let the COVID Task Force just come in and see that the protocol is fully implemented. But not to hand over responsibility and approval to the COVID Task Force politicians.”
He added that it is the party’s view that “the Commission can establish as many workstations as they want. The COVID Task Force just has to ensure that the protocol to keep people safe and avoid contamination is maintained. That protocol has been established already and is being implemented at the Convention Centre.”
According to Jagdeo, those protocols include testing everyone before entering the Conference Center and mandating the wearing of masks, as well as the sanitising of work stations. But according to him, the impression being given is that the Task Force’s unwillingness to give approval is just a delaying ploy.
“They just want to drag this out longer so they can hang on to power, hoping that by some miracle something will happen that will alter the results coming out of the Convention Centre,” Jagdeo said.
While expressing his disappointment in the fact that the COVID-19 Task Force seems bent on pussyfooting in relation to its advice to increase the counting stations, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall noted that the Commission has the authority to establish those stations. He added that they need to act fast because the 25 days allotted to the recount is fast approaching its expiration.