Election CoI: Former APNU/AFC Ministers, Opposition’s Chief Scrutineer refuse to testify

…after being summoned

Volda Lawrence

Former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government Ministers, Dr Karen Cummings and Volda Lawrence as well as the coalition’s Chief Scrutineer Carol Smith-Joseph were summoned and appeared before the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the 2020 elections fiasco.
The Opposition trio opted not to testify when they appeared before the CoI on Thursday morning.
Dr Cummings exercised her right to remain silent when the options were put to her by the Commission’s Chairman, Retired Justice of Appeal Stanley John, and so she did not give any evidence.
Meanwhile, Lawrence and Smith-Joseph were represented by Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes, who informed the Commission that his clients currently have pending charges before the courts hence they could not testify.
“Both of them are defendants in criminal proceedings with offences relating to the conduct of the elections and consequently, I think they face some jeopardy if they were to testify,” Hughes indicated.

Dr Karen Cummings

As a result, the lawyer told the CoI that his clients were exercising their right as enshrined in Article 144 (7) so as to not incriminate themselves or put themselves in a position where they might incriminate themselves. Article 144 (7) states: “No person who is tried for a criminal offence shall be compelled to give evidence at the trial.”
“Consequently, [they] won’t testify,” Attorney Hughes stated.
Nevertheless, the three coalition members had to enter the witness box before the panel of Commissioners during which they all reaffirmed their position to remain silent.

Carol Joseph

Lawrence and Smith-Joseph are facing electoral fraud charges stemming from the events that played out during the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.
Those matters are pending in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts.
Only last December, several staff of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) also appeared before the CoI and opted not to give evidence due to pending investigations and criminal charges instituted against them as well.
Denise Babb-Cummings, Shefern February, Michelle Miller, and Carolyn Duncan were summoned to appear before the CoI on December 6, 2022.
However, Babb-Cummings, February, and Miller had filed a $150 million lawsuit in the form of an injunction one day prior, citing that the summons amount to a breach of their constitutional right against self-incrimination under Article 144 of the Constitution of Guyana. They had asked the court to quash the summons and to grant a permanent injunction preventing the CoI from compelling the attendance of anyone charged with a criminal offence.
But at the time when they appeared before the CoI, those orders were not granted. In fact, two days after the legal proceedings were filed, the High Court denied the requests and ordered the three GECOM staff to pay the state $75,000 in costs by January 16.
In 2020, Registration Officers February, Miller, and Babb-Cummings were slapped with charges in relation to electoral fraud. They were accused of inflating the results of Region Four – the country’s largest voting district – to give the APNU/AFC coalition a majority win at the polls.
Assistant Registration Officer Duncan is still being investigated by the Guyana Police Force and is on station bail. It is alleged that she, along with others, conspired to rig the elections.
In total, some 32 electoral fraud cases have been filed in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts against several political activists and GECOM officials including former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield; his deputy, Roxanne Myers and former embattled Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo.
The CoI was set up by President Dr Irfaan Ali to look into the events following the March 2020 elections and make appropriate recommendations to prevent any reoccurrence.
The CoI only resumed hearings on Wednesday after a hiatus of almost one month. The next public hearing is set for this morning. (G8)