Elections CoI: Party agents testify about data discrepancies after missing GECOM flash drive recovered
…recall being arrested, threats hurled at ABCE observers
As the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the 2020 General and Regional Elections continued on Monday, party agents testified about the controversial removal of the flash drive from the tabulation room at the office of the Region Four Returning Officer (RO) which was housed at the Ashmins Building, Hadfield and High Streets, Georgetown.
Former Executive Member of A New and United Guyana (ANUG), Jonathan Yearwood; and Executive Member of The New Movement, Dr Josh Kanhai recalled witnessing data that did not match the Statements of Poll showing up when the flash drive was returned to the tabulation room.
The election was marred by controversy for months following the polls. On March 5, party agents and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) were busy with the verification process for Region Four when Data Clerk Enrique Livan complained of feeling tired.
It was agreed that a break would be taken but upon resuming, the Clerk said he could not function anymore and took a laptop along with a flash drive and left the room.
The tabulation numbers were required to be displayed on a screen for party agents and GECOM officials to correspond and verify the data from the Statements of Poll (SoP).
It is in this case, the flash drive was being used to input the verified data.
In his testimony, Yearwood said he saw Livan taking the flash drive that was recording all the information that was being fed to him.
“I saw him take the flash drive from the desk that was recording all of the information that he called out onto a big screen…That flash drive was taken by Mr Livan when they left the room,” he told the Commission.
Yearwood recalled that sometime after, he left the verification room and went to another with other party agents. There, he saw three GECOM employees inside including Livan who had a laptop with him.
Livan appeared to have been sitting at the computer, working on a document. The flash drive, believed to have been taken from the other room, was being used. Upon seeing this, Yearwood said party agents raised suspicion.
“He gave little or no response to our questions or anything…He had a disparaging look on his face. He was being accused of working on the document that was recording the Statements of Polls. He just denied that he was doing anything wrong…He was also accused of removing the actual laptop used in the tabulation room and using the same laptop.”
During the process, the testimony revealed that it was ‘rowdy’ owing to the many persons crowding the room with Livan. Police Commander Edgar Thomas later intervened as tensions brewed.
After some back and forth, former Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield subsequently took the flash drive and returned it to the tabulation room. However, as the flash drive was reinserted, the statistics for the South Georgetown area showed up on the screen but at the time break, officials were verifying the East Bank Demerara area numbers.
Meanwhile, Dr Kanhai during his testimony explained that it was PPP/C party agent, Sonia Parag who raised the alarm that the flash was missing.
When it was found in Livan’s possession, it was the contention of Lowenfield that the flash drive was not the same. As the contents were later viewed, it was confirmed to be the missing gadget.
However, startling to the officials was the fact that the numbers on the spreadsheet did not match those of the Statements of Poll that were in possession of the party agents.
The TMN Executive recalled, “He’s (Lowenfield) saying it is not the same flash drive that was in the room and that it is a different flash drive. I basically asked him how could you be so sure. Eventually he gave in and said let’s look at the content of the flash drive.”
He added, “Mr Livan inserted the flash drive into the laptop in the room and it was projected onto a projected screen, showing us a spreadsheet. We started to see numbers which were not corresponding to the Statement of Polls and the entire room went into an uproar.”
He further stated that for the entire night, he stayed with other party agents at the Ashmins building, having felt like the documents were not secured. The verification process could not continue.
“Given all that had happened that night, I felt like a lot was amiss and very suspicious. The Statements of Poll and other documents for Region Four were in the tabulation room which was at the eastern end of the building. They were in boxes and they didn’t seem secure. So most of the parties asked an agent to stay,” Kanhai noted.
On the afternoon of March 6, Kanhai recalled Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo attempting to make the declaration, despite the fact that the entire verification process was not completed. This led to objections from all of the stakeholders.
“There were bomb threats so the [verification] process had stopped. Given the amount of verification we still had outstanding, there was no way that afternoon that the entire list could have been completed.”
Arrests and threats
On the said day, the TNM Executive said that GECOM’s Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh was nowhere in sight. Upon inquiries, some persons claimed she was not in the building while others communicated otherwise.
That evening, Kanhai noticed a detective rushing to the second floor and was pleading with Police officers to let him onto the third floor. The officer claimed that the Chairperson was his relative and she had summoned him.
“They were barricading it so no one could enter the third floor. He was pleading with the Police officers to let him through but they were being difficult about it. They were saying it is prohibited at this point. He continuously said the Chairwoman was his relative and she was calling him saying that she was not feeling well. They didn’t seem to care about that.”
Soon, the detective was allowed to enter and the ambulance also arrived. Kanhai said persons forced themselves through the barricade and went up to the third floor after the paramedics.
“They were looking throughout all the rooms. One room was opened and they were trying to ask the man in that room where the Chairwoman was…We noticed a door that had all of its locks missing but it was secured…Given my medical empathy, I decided to have a go at that door.”
“I got through that door. The door broke lose. There was a room within a room. I looked straight ahead and pushed a room door opened, I saw Madam Chair seated on the couch with Ms Roxanne Myers sitting on the handle and about 12 men in that room,” Kanhai recalled.
Kanhai described the GECOM chair as looking “flustered and pale” and “she didn’t seem well”. Shortly after, Kanhai was arrested and charged.
“I felt myself being pulled out of that room by Police officers. We were pulled out of the room…We were questioned and there for about an hour. We were taken onto the second floor and lined up there. We were escorted down by a large group of officers…Myself and an AmCham observer were taken to the Brickdam Police Station.”
Later into the morning hours, Kanhai said they secured bail. Since then, he has not received any notifications to go to court.
Meanwhile, Yearwood also told the Commission of an incident where he was also arrested.
He recalled that it started on March 13, 2020, during which figures were being called out by RO Mingo but they did not match those on the SoPs. This was met with objection by party agents and threats were thrown by APNU/AFC counting agent, Carol Joseph.
“She threatened Pauline Chase, who was the Guyana Bar Association observer and she threatened Kit Nascimento, the private sector observer. She also threatened the heads of the ABCE Heads of Mission in Guyana. She also threatened them with physical harm.”
He added, “She (Joseph) threatened to stomp her (Chase) in the face. She (Joseph) threatened to spit in Nascimento’s face. Shortly after, they got up and left the room…She basically told them to get out of Guyana.”
That same afternoon, Yearwood said Carol Joseph rushed at him and in his defence, he pushed her away. He was then arrested and escorted to the Brickdam Police Station.
“When she rushed at me, I defended myself and pushed her away. I was immediately surrounded by five or six heavily armed Police and taken to the Brickdam Police Station. She was sitting maybe three or four rows back. I was walking to the exit. She left where she was and was running, rushing to me. She said that I’m going to get you,” he testified.
The CoI continues today where several pieces of video evidence will be presented to the commission. (Rupa Seenaraine)