Home Letters Legally, Claudette Singh has to make a declaration based on recount
With atypical speed, GECOM Chair Claudette Singh distanced herself from the unfortunate statement by (GECOM) Commissioner Sase Gunraj that purported to convey the Chairman’s views on the recurrent, outlandish claims by the APNU/AFC and its spokespersons such as Aubrey Norton and James Bond. By contrast, the Chairman appears unperturbed by the almost daily pronouncements by Gunraj’s counterpart Vincent Alexander and by members of the public concerned about the descent of GECOM into what seems to be a criminally minded enterprise involving fraud among senior Government functionaries, the APNU, the PNCR, the AFC powerfully enabled recently by the COVID-19 Task Force.
If Singh was as concerned about the constitutional duty and the reputation of GECOM, instead of “holding it in abeyance”, she would have called for an internal investigation into Mingo’s out-of-reality declaration on the District Four results. I have never seen a Judge or Retired Judge who treated a transparent, barefaced fraud with such deference. Surely, Singh cannot be ignorant of the evidence of Mingo’s fraud and its elevation by the complicit Lowenfield. Yet she remains mysteriously silent on what is effectively a fraud on GECOM itself.
Claudette Singh was a Puisne Judge from about the mid-eighties, and up to her appointment as GECOM Chair, she was still in public service – well over four decades. She was appointed Chair in July 2019 – less than one year ago. Yet, she has managed to draw more attention to herself in the latter period than in all the decades serving the country in a legal capacity. Sadly for her, most of the attention has been negative. Worse, it has been largely self-inflicted. It is not that Claudette Singh was wholly on one side or the other: it is that some of her positions serve to confuse while others defy common sense, logic and basic principles.
Take for an example the recurrent and sometimes fictitious claims at the recount made by APNU/AFC agents like Coretta McDonald and Ganesh Mahipaul. To Mahipaul’s credit, if that is allowed, he admitted that his claims of dead and absent voters were based on hearsay information. Yet, Claudette Singh’s GECOM is prepared to entertain those and similar allegations. On the other hand, McDonald, whose conduct at this recount does the premier trade unions umbrella organisation no credit, has been more shameless, calling out fictitious box numbers at her Recount Station. Again, much time was unnecessarily consumed in recording her fiction. A self-respecting Chairman, on seeing such a pattern by whoever, should have convened a meeting of the Commissioners to set guidelines on how complaints are to be addressed and to prevent hindrances to the early completion of the recount. Instead, Singh has committed to affording those mischievous and made-up claims “considerable deliberations and decisions at the Commission”.
Singh and the Commissioners must surely be aware that the so-called representations and challenges by the APNU/AFC are further frustrating the achievement of the statutory limitation for the declaration of the election results – fifteen days from the date of the elections – and its own timeframe of twenty-five days for the duration of the count. GECOM ought to have reiterated the statutory parameters of a recount, the principle regarding complaints of a general nature such as allegations of personation the respective roles and functions of GECOM and those of the High Court in matters dealing with the results of elections and the timeframe of the order regarding the recount which is not part of the country’s subsidiary legislations. Claudette Singh has to realise that even circuses come to an end and that at some point, she as an individual with her reputation in danger, will have to explain her silence and inaction to a court of law, a Commission of Inquiry or to history.
In chiding Gunraj, Claudette Singh also referred to the legal principle known as the onus of proof as “her view”. While the recount drags on, Singh should go back to her decision in the Esther Perreira case in which she addressed the question and placed it squarely within the context of the Constitution and the National Assembly (Validity of Elections) Act Cap 1:04. While I believe that she misapplied the use of the word “may” in the relevant provision of the Constitution, she accepted and so ruled, that he who asserts must prove, ie the onus of proof rests on the person claiming any irregularity. Years later and at a critical juncture, she is now referring to a well-established ruling applied by her in the Esther Perreira case as “a view”. Such carelessness and indecisiveness only serve to embolden the outlandish claims and encourage the adventurism of persons like Leonard Craig and Desmond Trotman who consider themselves competent to pronounce on legal matters with the certainty of seasoned Senior Counsel.
Maybe out of fear, the effects of operating in a cauldron, or of age, Claudette has shown only moments of independence and courage. She foolishly allowed herself to be standing at Granger’s side last Sunday as he spoke as a Presidential Candidate. All she had to do was to think whether she would have so acted if Irfaan Ali or Bharrat Jagdeo visited the Conference Centre or addressed the media. Granger has now put her in the invidious position where who becomes President is determined almost exclusively by her. With Granger’s usual duplicity, he is committed not to accepting the results of the recount, but Claudette Singh’s declaration.
If she were (sic) to deny the PPP/C as having won, it can be on one ground only – the flaws fictitiously claimed by the APNU/AFC. If she does that then for the same reason, she cannot declare Granger the winner either. Would she then declare a draw and let Granger remain in office? That is what the APNU/AFC wants and then have years in litigation and further manipulations by GECOM to give Granger an illegitimate five years counting from fifteen days after March 2, 2020.
Granger’s end of visit speech at the counting centre last week showed him at his duplicitous best. He did not say he would accept the results of the recount which he agreed to with the Caricom Chair. He said only that he would accept any declaration made by GECOM. Mindful of the power relationship between him and Singh, her record of indecisiveness, and the pressures she has had to endure from him, Amna Ally, Joseph Harmon, Volda Lawrence and a string of everything-to-lose second level PNCR persons, Granger clearly thinks that Claudette Singh will give him the victory he so badly needs to restore his damaged image. He has, therefore, placed on her that burden.
Legally, Claudette Singh has no choice but to make a declaration based on the recount. She needs to show that she is the Iron Lady she boasts to be and to stop being the compromised weakling many think she is. And she must, if she cares about the country and her reputation, think about the implications and the consequences of delivering to Granger what the voters denied him.