Elections CoI: Mingo, Lowenfield did not use SoPs as instructed by Commission – Claudette Singh
The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the events that followed the March 2020 elections heard that both former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield and former Region Four Returning Officer (RO) Clairmont Mingo failed to follow the instructions of the seven-member Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) on several occasions after the March 2 polls.
This was revealed during the testimony of GECOM Chair, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, who took the stand on Thursday. She also disclosed that despite the actions of these two embattled officials, who are currently before the courts, along with others, facing electoral fraud charges, no actions were taken against them at the level of the Commission during the five-month impasse.
With regard to Mingo, Justice Singh recalled that she had learnt that there was an attempt to use spreadsheets instead of the Statements of Poll (SoPs), as per standard practice, to conduct the tabulation of the votes from Region Four – Guyana’s largest voting district – but did not do anything about the situation.
She explained that the issue was brought to her attention on March 4, 2020 by then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C)-nominated Commissioner at GECOM, the late Bibi Shadick, who received a phone call that “someone was trying to use a spreadsheet” with incorrect figures during the tabulation of the District Four votes.
The GECOM Chair related that Commissioner Shadick returned after some time and said the matter was resolved; hence she never looked into it.
“I was awaiting [on Shadick] to return to tell me what took place… She told me the matter was resolved… As far as I’m aware no decision was taken by the Commission to use the spreadsheet… At that time, no [I did not ascertain myself whether the spreadsheet was being used],” Justice Singh stated when probed by the CoI Commissioners.
Nevertheless, the GECOM Chair said she later learnt that it was Mingo who tried to implement the use of spreadsheets, which she said “…the Commission had never sanctioned. There was no agreement on that, no decision”.
The following day, however, while the seven-member Elections Commission was discussing the spreadsheet issue, People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) – the leading party in the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) – Commissioner Charles Corbin declared that she “cannot interfere” with the RO’s work.
But before she could have responded to this statement, Justice Singh related that the meeting was interrupted and they were informed that Mingo was attempting to declare the Region Four results without completing the verification process – something which the GECOM Chair said was unheard of.
“By the time everybody ran out, Mingo had already made his declaration… This was something unheard of. Nobody thought that would’ve [happened especially since the tabulation of the District Four votes were not completed],” Justice Singh stated.
That declaration was subsequently set aside by the High Court judge, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, who ruled that the SoPs should be used to conduct the tabulation of the Region Four votes.
But according to the GECOM Chair, at the time when the tabulation of the Region Four votes was slated to recommence, the then Deputy Chief Elections Officer Roxanne Myers informed her via phone that they interpreted the CJ’s ruling to mean that documents other than the SoPs can be used to verify the votes.
However, Justice Singh said, “My understanding was that the Chief Justice said to use the SoPs.”
As a result, the process was then deferred until the GECOM Chair could obtain the court ruling and properly examine it.
Two days later, on March 13, 2020, there was a hearing before the Chief Justice (ag) after another legal proceeding was filed, claiming that GECOM and the RO were in contempt of the previous court ruling by not using the SoPs to conduct the tabulation.
“I went along with the CEO [Keith Lowenfield] and Mr Mingo… We went to Court… [I gave an undertaking to] facilitate a recount [of the Region Four votes]. Although, that was in the RO’s domain, that was his power, what I said if the RO had turned down the application for recount [filed by at least agents of at least two political parties], I will facilitate it by going to Commission and get their consent.”
According to Justice Singh, while the Chief Justice instructed Mingo on how he should proceed, she too spoke with him afterwards and warned him to use the SoPs figures in his tabulation exercise to which he responded, saying “yes”.
Nevertheless, that entire process was eventually abandoned by March 14, 2020 after there was an agreement between the then President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo for a national recount of all the votes cast to be carried out.
Meanwhile, following the 33-day recount exercise, CEO Lowenfield was required to tabulate the results of the March 2020 General and Regional Elections based on the results from that recount. But according to the GECOM Chair, in his report, the CEO said the elections were marred by anomalies and allegations of voters’ impersonation; therefore, it was not a credible process.
Justice Singh indicated, however, only a court of law can annul an election under Article 163 of the Constitution of Guyana.
Nevertheless, in a subsequent report by the CEO, in which he was guided by another court ruling on the validity of votes, Lowenfield invalidated about 100,000 votes based on the Appeal Court’s decision.
The GECOM Chair said that report was discounted by the Elections Commission after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) dismissed the Appeal Court ruling. Following this, the CEO issued a press statement in which he claimed that he acted constitutionally and executed his duties.
He was again instructed by the GECOM Chair on July 9, 2020 to produce a report the following day, but instead, he sought clarification from her on her request. That report was submitted, but contained the figures from the initial tabulation process and not the recount process.
Justice Singh said she did not accept this and again directed the CEO to submit another report on July 14. On that day, however, another court challenge was filed, challenging whether the GECOM Chair can instruct the CEO to prepare a report using the recount figures.
Again, that challenge was dismissed at the level of the Court of Appeal and the CEO finally submitted his report on August 2, 2020 using the recount figures as instructed. A declaration of the March 2, 2020 results were then made, naming the PPP/C as the winner with 15,000 more votes than the APNU/AFC.
In light of the fact that she made six attempts before finally receiving the correct report from the CEO, Justice Singh, when asked, indicated that no actions were taken during that time to discipline Lowenfield since the Elections Commission was more focused on having him submit his report. However, she did note that action was subsequently taken and Lowenfield, his deputy and Mingo were all terminated.
The election CoI will be taking a break for the Christmas holidays and will resume its work on January 4, 2023. (G8)