…says she locked herself in a room amid chaos at Ashmins Building
Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh on Thursday took the stand before the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (CoI) during which she recalled feeling overwhelmed by events that played out in the days following the March 2, 2020 elections and locking herself in a room at the Ashmins Building out of fear for her life.
“I felt a bit dizzy; I wasn’t feeling well. There were so many things on my mind, I was actually shaking because then with the declaration [made by then Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo before the completion of the tabulation of the Region Four votes] and then… there was an injunction filed by [PPP/C’s Anil] Nandlall [against Mingo’s declaration]… So, I just couldn’t be bothered with anybody, so I went up to there, just to have a quiet moment,” Justice Singh related about her retreating to a room on March 5, 2020.
On that day, however, there were reports that the GECOM Chair had been held hostage in the room at Ashmins Building, which was being used as the Region Four Command Centre.
But Justice Singh clarified during her testimony that it was she who had locked herself in, since she was afraid for her safety.
“I heard sounds from outside; I heard a lot of sounds. But then after I heard people say “We want the Chairman” and then I heard footsteps and like people were rushing in… and then I heard them say they will break the door and I panicked. I became very much afraid,” she recalled.
According to the GECOM Chair, she then called A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Minister at the time, Amna Ally, because “I was afraid for my life and I thought people were coming to harm me… I know [Ally] and she told me she would be calling someone”.
Justice Singh explained that it was only until she eventually came out of the room that she realised that persons outside thought she was being held captive inside in the room. At the time when she exited the room, she was met by a then party agent of the New Movement Party, Dr Josh Kanhai, and Inspector Prem Narine, whom she had called by mistake – both of whom dispelled a sigh of relief upon finding out from her that she was fine.
The GECOM Chair went on to explain that while she was in the room having a quiet moment to herself, there were several calls coming to her cellphone, but she did not take them.
This prompted a series of questions from the Commissioners, who sought to ascertain why she isolated herself in a room amid the chaos that had erupted regarding the electoral process.
But Justice Singh contended, “I couldn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t feel up to it to talk to anyone… I couldn’t be bothered, because I was upset by the events of the day.”
In fact, the GECOM Head related that she did not know who to trust and just wanted to be by herself.
When questioned about whom she did not trust, Justice Singh said she was just speaking about “something at large”. In fact, she was specifically asked by the CoI Chairman, Retired Justice of Appeal Stanley John, whether she was referring to her fellow GECOM Commissioners or senior GECOM officials, and Justice Singh clarified that she had no reason not to trust either of those groups of persons. However, she went on to point out to the CoI that she was still fairly new and a “stranger” at the Elections Commission, having only taken up the chairmanship role some eight months prior to the March 2020 polls.
Against this backdrop, another CoI Commissioner, Justice Godfrey Smith pointed out that it was odd that as the GECOM Chair she isolated herself at such a critical juncture in the post-electoral process.
“It was quite a commotion in the day that caused you stress, but to say you couldn’t be bothered seems odd, because you’re the Chair and you’re in the middle of a very serious situation. I simply want to know at that point did you call other [GECOM] Commissioners and say I’m feeling stressed, let’s meet together and weather the storm – I’m not taking this on, on my own. Did that occur to you or you just preferred to shut yourself in,” Commissioner Smith questioned.
In response, Justice Singh explained that at that time the GECOM Commissioners had left, since it was late in the afternoon and staff at the location had already begun clearing out.
“I went upstairs because I was stressed out, and that’s it. It’s my personal moment when I went up there [to the room]… When I said I couldn’t be bothered, I wasn’t speaking about the Commission’s work or anything. This is personal… I just wanted that quiet moment and then I heard all this noise and I was afraid for my life… I thought they were going to harm me,” she related.
The GECOM Chair went on to declare, “Commissioner, you would not understand what was happening. And you would not understand, because you didn’t live here, what stress I was going through and the threats which were making against me.”
Nevertheless, eventually the door was broken open and Justice Singh indicated that she was escorted out of the building by the Police and she never returned to Ashmins Building until the following week when the tabulation of the Region Four votes were slated to recommence following a High Court ruling. (G8)