Election CoI: Commissioners hear of difficulties in serving Request for Recount
…after Region 4 results declared without completing verification process
The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the events that followed the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections continued on Wednesday with People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s Charles Ramson Jr taking the stand to testify that he was actively prevented from serving a Request for Recount to the then Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, who had declared the results for the region without completing the verification process.
Ramson, who served as Counting Agent for the PPP/C during the elections, explained that on March 5, 2020 after Mingo had declared the results for Region Four – the country’s largest voting district – he retreated to his office in one of the rooms on the first floor of Ashmins building, which was being used as the Office of the Region Four Returning Officer.
Immediately after this, Ramson said he prepared a letter detailing his Party’s request for a recount of the District Four votes. However, he was denied access to the first floor where Mingo’s office was located by Police Officers manning the stairs.
Eventually, with the assistance of the late Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Commissioner Bibi Shadick, he was allowed up to the first floor to serve the letter to Mingo, but never got to see him.
“When I went to serve the letter, what is very important that stands out as well is that all of the offices had steel doors… but the locks on the handles were removed from the exterior of the door, so there was no way of turning a handle to get into [any of the rooms]. And so, then I rapped on every single door for a good 10 minutes or so and no one answered, no door opened,” he said.
According to Ramson, he waited for about an hour on the corridor of the first floor, but there was no sign of Mingo. During that time, he made several rounds around the corridor rapping on all the doors.
Mingo eventually emerged hours later, but was surrounded by Police Officers who were “rapidly escorting” him out the building through a back stairway.
“I ran with the letter which I still had in my possession to serve him and then when we opened the door moving into one of the sections, but still a little way away from him, Police Officers stopped me once again and prevented me from proceeding,” Ramson recalled, disclosing that he was able to capture a few seconds of this in a video via his cellphone.
That video was played as evidence to the Commission and both Ramson and PPP/C’s Chief Scrutineer, Zulfikar Mustapha, could both be heard shouting that they had a Request for Recount to serve on Mingo.
Having been unsuccessful in getting the Returning Officer, Ramson told the Commission that he took a photo of the letter and sent it via WhatsApp to Mingo as well as to the then Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield and the GECOM Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh. But there was no acknowledgment of receipt or any other response from any of those officials.
Ramson further testified that he left the Ashmins building that night and returned the following day with the letter. However, he was met by the Police cordoning off access to the building with barricades, and they refused to let him in. At the same time, there was a “mob” that had gathered and according to Ramson, he was threatened by persons wearing A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change shirts and other party paraphernalia.
Again, a video of that encounter was played for the Commission in which persons were heard telling Ramson that he could not go inside and there was even someone threatening to kill him.
“There was a lot of threatening happening, a lot of abusive behaviour,” Ramson stated. He said these were all done in the presence of Police Officers, who did nothing.
“In fact, there was no support from the Police in relation to calming the situation down [and] removing persons from there. It was unsafe entirely.”
Nevertheless, Ramson said he was eventually allowed past the barricades, but upon approaching the Ashmins building, it was observed that the building appeared closed with its shutters down. At the time, there were other persons including a GECOM Commissioner, election observers, other PPP/C members and even representatives from other political parties that contested the elections all standing outside the building.
According to Ramson, he was subsequently allowed in the building to serve the Request for Recount to Mingo’s Clerk just seven minutes before the midday deadline. Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party, Lenox Shuman, had also submitted a request for a recount of the Region Four votes.
However, sometime later, Mingo responded to the PPP/C and indicated that the request was denied, citing the fact that Ramson was not recognised as a Counting Agent despite the two having previously engaged each other on multiple occasions.
Ramson pointed out that not only did his party inform GECOM of his appointment as a Counting Agent, but he and Mingo had a discussion on the process to be used for the verification/tabulation of the Region Four votes the day before the March 2 polls. He added too that he had another engagement on the night of the election before the commencement of the verification process. (G8)