PPP/C worried over provision that gives Lowenfield time alone with SoRs
… as objections mount over ‘details’ in elections recount order
The Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) Official Order in the Gazette for the national recount has made provisions for the original Statements of Recount to be lodged with Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, for an unprescribed period of time before party representatives and other scrutineers are provided with a copy, and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has voiced scepticism over this, given Lowenfield’s actions in the past.
According to Clause Eight (8) of the Order made under the Constitution of Guyana and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act No 15 of 2000, under which the recount is to be conducted, “The Statement of Recount shall be signed by the person conducting the recount and by the representative of each contesting party present, in the presence of the Caricom scrutinising team, representatives of political parties that contested the said elections, international and local observers accredited by the Guyana Elections Commission and advisors to the Guyana Elections Commission.
These documents shall be lodged with the Chief Elections Officer and copies distributed to the signatories thereto, the Caricom scrutinising team, the Chairman and the Commissioners.”
In making their criticisms and voicing their concerns over these provisions, the PPP pointed out that the usual procedure for a count at a Polling Station provides certain safeguards as it relates to the Statements of Poll (SoPs).
In the case of a recount, the Statement of Recount has the same function as an SoP. The Opposition noted that the practice during a count, which allows for transparency, sees the SoP containing the results being signed by the Presiding Officer (PO) and a duplicate copy of the original immediately being handed to each polling agent representing their respective political parties, while the original copy is sent by the PO to the Returning Officer (RO) and another duplicate copy of the original is sent to the CEO.
Pointing to the vast difference in procedures as it relates to SoPs and the provisions made for the handling of SoRs, the PPP in a statement on Tuesday stated, “The original copy of the SoP being sent to the RO and the different duplicate copies of the original being handed to the representatives of the respective political parties and the Chief Elections Officer, is a fundamental check and balance mechanism, the importance of which is now even greater, having regard to the various attempts at fraud, which we have witnessed in relation to tabulation of results in relation to Electoral District number Four (4).”
The party continued to stress, “This means that for a period of time, unknown, the Chief Elections Officer shall have sole custody of these documents and shall have the sole responsibility of making copies of them for distribution, without any oversight, whatsoever, before they are delivered to the other persons named in the provision.”
Their objections to this provision, they said, is the SoRs being in the sole possession of the Chief Elections Officer for the purpose of making copies, without any oversight and scrutiny.
The basis for concern dwells on the fact that it was CEO Lowenfield who “has unlawfully refused to make SoPs in his possession public and has also withheld them from the Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) despite their repeated request.”
As a measure of transparency and accountability, the PPP has, therefore, recommended that “when the necessary information is recorded on each SoR upon the completion of the recount of each ballot box and before that SoR is signed by anyone, that the relevant number of copies be made, then signed by all the persons who are entitled to do so and be distributed to the different persons entitled to possession of them; so that if there is any discrepancies, it can be detected before the relevant persons sign them.”
Further, the party said, “We take this opportunity to call upon the APNU/AFC rigging cabal and their cohorts to stop their surreptitious as well as blatant attempts to derail, frustrate and undermine the recount process, including their strenuous efforts to deny the process transparency and the widest possible oversight and public scrutiny.”
The PPP’s incredulity towards Lowenfield’s integrity follows several incidents post-March 2 that have raised concerns over his impartiality. On March 8, 2020, even after contesting parties, local and foreign observers and the diplomatic and international community declared that the Region Four declaration made by Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo lacked credibility, Lowenfield attempted to make a final declaration of the results based on Mingo’s declaration—even as the Region Four declaration was being challenged in court.
Lowenfield in an email to the GECOM Chairperson, Retired Justice Claudette Singh had in March stated that he “received declarations from Returning Officers for General and Regional Elections 2020 from Districts 1-10,” and “I have prepared the final report for submission to the Commission. In this regard, a request is made for a meeting of the Commission at your earliest convenience.”
The PPP Commissioners – Sase Gunraj, Bibi Shadick and Robeson Benn – in rejecting his attempts had stated that this was a “flagrant attempt to breach the order of court… and a naked attempt by the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, to suborn us to breach an order of court and exposing us to liability for contempt of court.” The Commissioners had also stated that it was an attempt to “subvert the course of justice.”
Later in March, when Ulita Moore took to the court to prevent the GECOM-supervised national recount, Lowenfield’s lawyer, Neil Boston, in his submission on behalf of the CEO had argued that a declaration had already been made and a recount by the Commission based on a request by political actors would be “ultra vires.”
Lowenfield’s lawyer had pushed the argument that a recount would be illegal, saying, “The count has already been declared; there is an elections court that will have to review all the evidence by the persons who were there to determine whether there was some unlawful act or omission which affected the results.” These were the arguments on the CEO’s behalf despite the Chairperson’s submission at that time that a recount should take place and she was ready to give the orders to pave the way for such.