GECOM Chairman insists Chief Elections Officer must report certified recounted valid votes; Alexander says Lowenfield will “respond”

Last Updated on Friday, 10 July 2020, 20:00 by Denis Chabrol

Left; Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield.

The Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice Claudette Singh  on Friday told the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield that he must deliver his report of the March 2, 2020 general elections in keeping with the recounted and certified valid votes.

He did not submit his report  0n Friday, as had been requested by the Chairman, but instead delivered a letter seeking her guidance.

Ms. Singh did not respond, in writing, to any of Mr. Lowenfield’s requests for guidance in light of the implications of the Caribbean Court of Justice’s decision on the recount order and valid votes.

Only saying that the contents of his letter have been “carefully noted”, she said “you are accordingly advised that my letter dated 9th July, 2020 stands”.  She asked that he submit his report by 11 O’clock Saturday  morning. Pro-coalition Elections Commissioner, Vincent Alexander, when asked whether he expected Mr. Lowenfield to submit his report on Saturday, said “I expect the CEO to respond tomorrow.”

Mr. Lowenfield had asked the GECOM Chairman to advise whether the results based on the 10 district declarations or the recounted votes should be used because the CCJ judgement says under the Representation of the People Act the counting must be done by Returning Officers.

But Pro-coalition Elections Commissioner, Vincent Alexander, instead, says he prefers GECOM to use its authority and make a “non-declaration.” He conceded that the law does not allow for that to be done but indicated that GECOM could exercise its authority not to declare a result where doing so would be impossible. “Things can be done that are not unlawful, that may not specified in the law to be done,” he said.

Mr. Alexander said the Chief Election Officer could not be replaced, even temporarily, to allow for someone else to perform his functions once he is on the job. “The Commission cannot substitute somebody else for him unless it’s a course of disciplinary action that he is suspended, off the job and, therefore, since the job has to be done, we substituted somebody else for him,” he said. He said if the the Chief Election Officer refuses to comply with the Chairman’s request, he would have to be deemed insubordinate and remove him from the position.

Alexander said “anything can happen”, when asked whether he envisaged further legal  action. He said one of the major sticking points is that the recount exercise included and excluded votes in contrast to provisions in the Representation of the People Act that the CCJ ruling referred to in determining what is a valid vote. He believed that the recount order should be set aside, based on the CCJ’s ruling.

Pro-People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Elections Commissioner, Sase Gunraj cautioned that in an employer-employee relationship there would be consequences if the Chief Election Officer  refuses to carry out the Chairman’s instructions.  The practicing Attorney-at-Law stressed that the Chief Elections Officer is legally subjected to the dictates of the Commission. “The law dictates that the CEO is a creature of the Commission and if he fails to carry out the lawful instructions, obviously that has to be met with consequences and there is a raft of consequences which can flow from that…,” he said.

Legal experts note that Article 162 (1)(b) of the Constitution states that the Elections Commission shall exercise general direction and supervision over the registration of electors and the administrative conduct of all elections of members of the National Assembly; and shall issue such instructions and take such action as appear to it necessary or expedient to ensure impartiality, fairness and compliance with the provisions of this Constitution or of any Act of Parliament on the part of persons exercising powers or performing duties connected with or relating to the matters mentioned before.

Consistent with 162(1)(a) and 162(1)(b), Section 18 of the Elections Law (Amendment) Act 2000 states that the Chief Election Officer and the Commission of Registration shall notwithstanding anything in any written law be subject to the direction and control of the Commission.

Additionally, legal experts say the Recount Order 60 of 2020 states in pertinent part  that for the avoidance of any doubt, the Chief Election Officer and every person appointed or authorized to perform any act or functions by virtue of this Order, are and shall remain subject to the general supervisory power of the Commission.

The 10 district declarations have not been nullified and have been held in abeyance. They include the controversial Region Four results that altogether gave David Granger’s A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) victory. The recount figures show that Region Four was bloated in favour of the coalition while all other declarations generally matched the recounted and certified figures.

The Chief Elections Officer asked the Chairman to “provide guidance” on how the Representation Of the People Act would be operationalized because the election law says votes counted and information furnished would be provided by statutory Officers” and “allocation of seats is premised on the statutory report of the Returning Officers.”