Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield on Wednesday handed over the original copies of the Statements of Poll (SOPs) from the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, as well as the Statements of Recount (SORs), to the Registrar of the Supreme Court.
This was in keeping with a court order made by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George last week, instructing the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to have all the SOPs and SORs submitted to the Registrar for “safekeeping” before January 29.
On Wednesday, Lowenfield turned up at the High Court in the company of heavy security and handed over the contentious documents to Registrar Sueanna Lovell.
Also present at the High Court for the handing over was GECOM Chair, retired Justice Claudette Singh, along with Commissioners Sase Gunraj, Vincent Alexander and Desmond Trotman.
The lodging process was a tedious one that lasted all day into the evening. There are 2339 SOPs and another 2339 SORs that had to be recorded individually.
Lowenfield told reporters that he was there to hand over all the SOPs that were forwarded to him following the tabulation of votes at each polling station across the country, and also the SORs that were derived from the subsequent 33-day national recount exercise.
The embattled Chief Elections Officer further disclosed that while he handed over the original documents, he also kept copies as a matter of record.
Guyana Times spoke with Supreme Court Registrar Sueanna Lovell throughout Wednesday, during which she indicated that they were still processing the documents.
When contacted around 18:30h, Lovell told this newspaper that they had about 30 minutes more before they wrapped up the exercise.
Later that evening, she told Guyana Times, “Yes, the process was completed”. Asked whether there were any glitches, Lovell responded, “Nothing of the sort.”
The order for GECOM to hand over the documents for safekeeping was made at the hearing of one of the two election petitions filed by the APNU/AFC, which is seeking to vitiate the results of the March 2020 elections.
PPP/C Attorney, Trinidadian Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, reminded the Court that the Representation of the Peoples Act allows the CEO to destroy all elections documents after a 12-month period has elapsed. That 12-month period would be up on March 2, 2021.
This position was supported by Attorney Kashir Khan, who is representing two of the small parties. He, too, had asked for the contentious SOPs and SORs – which amount to just over 5000 pages – to be placed in the custody of the Registrar, as a guaranteed safe place.
At that hearing last week, the Chief Justice dismissed one of the Coalition’s election petitions on the grounds of improper service.
Petition 99 of 2020, filed on September 15, 2020 by APNU/AFC agents Monica Thomas and Brennan Nurse, had asked the court to order the Chairman of the GECOM, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, to declare David Granger as President.
However, Justice George dismissed the petition on the ground that it was not properly served on former President Granger.
Granger, who is also the leader of APNU/AFC’s List of Candidates and is named as the second respondent, was served on September 25, ten days after petition 99 of 2020 was filed on September 15 and five days outside of the legal timeframe outlined in the National Assembly Validity of Elections Act.
The lawyers for the petitioners had argued that Granger is not a necessary party to the proceedings and that late service cannot be a ground for dismissing the petition. In fact, Granger had given the court a notice of intention not to oppose the petition.
But the Chief Justice found that Granger was properly named and a necessary party, since he not only represents himself but also everyone on the list he heads. She added that by filing the notice of no contention, though done prematurely, Granger accepted himself as a proper party but also pointed out that while respondents may conclude they are proper parties, the court can disagree.
Nevertheless, APNU/AFC has since signalled its intention to appeal this decision.
During a virtual press conference on Monday, Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon noted that the party believes it has solid grounds for the petition, hence it would appeal the dismissal.
“We shall appeal the decision of the Chief Justice with regards to petition 99, which she ruled was not permissible. We do not agree with her ruling, and as the law provides, we will appeal that decision,” the Opposition Leader said.
According to Harmon, the petitions address key questions that pertain to the March 2 General and Regional Elections.
Nevertheless, in the meantime, he noted that they would be making submissions to the court regarding the surviving petition in time for the April 7th hearing.
“While they address separate issues, they will establish that fraud was prevalent in the March 2020 elections… With respect to petition 88, we expect a hearing of that petition in the courts in early April. In the interim, the parties will be providing submissions to the court every two weeks, leading up to that date. So, we already have a timeline.” (G8)