I HAVE been privileged to have interviewed and interacted with all of the chairpersons of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) since the 1992 General and Regional Elections, and while those encounters have not always been comfortable for most, I must admit that those individuals were, for the most part, approachable.
However, it is no secret that two of the most controversial heads of GECOM were the late Doodnauth Singh, and Dr Steve Surujbally. Surely, my interpretation of these two gentlemen is in no way an attempt to besmirch their characters, but rather, to highlight their leadership role at GECOM.
Hence, the following: Chairman Mr. Singh, had gotten good reviews prior to his appointment as Chairman in 1997. His name was accepted by the then Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Hugh Desmond Hoyte, without much fussing and fighting. Mind you, it was under Desmond Hoyte’s presidency in 1985 that Mr. Singh was, without prejudice or regards to his political affiliation, elevated to the status of Senior Counsel. That aside, his stewardship at GECOM will go down in history as one of the most politically-partisan, weak and highly questionable.
In fact, at his deathbed, I reminded him (of course, in a cordial manner) that his decisions were mostly leaning to ensure that the PPP remained in office at all costs, and that GECOM was used to make it appear as though the 1997 elections were free and fair. Of course, he brushed that aside with a smile, and reminded me of a few good interactions we have had, when he represented a relative of mine.
Indeed, Singh was quite charming, and was one of the brightest legal minds in the history of Guyana. However, my respect for him diminished after his questionable antics at GECOM, and his treasonable act, when he allowed Mrs. Janet Jagan to be sworn-in as President of Guyana, under questionable circumstances. As a matter of fact, Mr. Singh ought to have known better, when he showed disregard for a High Court order to block Mrs. Jagan from being sworn-in. But, I guess, he became blinded by his political preference, selfish motives, and also ignored the oath he took when he was admitted to the Bar in 1959. In fact, the results of the December 15, 1997 elections were highly suspect, with the incumbent PPP/Civic receiving 53 per cent of the votes (34 seats) and the PNC, 40.5 per cent (26 seats), while the remaining seats were split between some very small and insignificant parties – at least, those parties have lost all electoral powers and respect by the masses. Immediately following the 1997 elections, a petition was brought by Ms. Esther Perreira, who challenged the results. The case took almost four years to conclude, and finally, the High Court judge (Ms. Claudette Singh) vitiated the results of the elections, on the grounds that there was an “unconstitutional use of a voter ID card”. Her decision immediately reduced the PPP/C regime to that of a caretaker status until the 2001 General and Regional Elections, which were held in March of that year.
Thus, it is for those questionable acts and more that I do believe that Mr. Doodnauth Singh’s tenure as Chairman of GECOM, was not served in the best interest of the country, but rather, as alluded to above, in the interest of the PPP. Maybe, this explains why he was appointed as a Member of Parliament of the PPP, and Minister of Legal Affairs, a few months after the March 2001, General and Regional elections.
And now to the other controversial Chairman of GECOM, Dr Steve Surujbally. The goodly doctor is a veterinarian by profession, and was appointed following the 2001 General and Regional elections. In my opinion, and without any malice or disrespect, he would have served the country far more effectively, had he remained doing what he is good at – taking care of animals, instead of running one of the most important institutions in Guyana.
The truth is, apart from some form of arrogance when dealing with the media, I somewhat liked his charm. But, that wasn’t enough to have convinced me that he performed his duties with much political impartiality. As it pertains to some controversies under his watch, in the 2006 General and Regional elections, GECOM mistakenly (or maybe intentionally) awarded a parliamentary seat from Region 10, to Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds. Surely, GECOM would have known that the seat was won by the Alliance For Change (AFC) and not the PPP/C. That said, there are other controversies under the veterinarian’s watch that are best suited for another article. Sadly, I have to give him a C-grade, and wish him the very best in life.
Turning to the current Chairperson of GECOM – the Hon. Justice (rtd.) Claudette Singh SC is a woman of distinction, solid reputation, unquestionable credibility, and enormous patience to have survived tremendous trials and tribulations in the past, especially at the hands of some very powerful and vindictive politicians who, during those years, were more concerned about controlling the judiciary. Unfortunately, those judges who did not fall in line with the political directorate were punished, purged or denied promotions. In the case of Justice Singh, she was denied being promoted as Chief Justice and instead, a lesser qualified individual was handpicked for the position. It is said that the political king at that time ensured that Justice Claudette Singh was punished, allegedly as a result of her ruling against the PPP in the 1997 General and Regional Elections.
In closing, I wish to make this point clear without a doubt, Justice (rtd.) Claudette Singh SC, thus far appears to be the most competent Chairperson of GECOM. The honourable lady will, I am certain, do what is in the best interest of the country and not cave into pressures by pompous political parties, or leaders whose interest is more self-serving, rather than wanting what is in the best for all Guyanese. Hence, it is my view that Chairwoman Justice (rtd) Claudette Singh, is a Godsend to GECOM, and would ensure that the list is cleaned up in order for Guyana to have free, fair, transparent and credible elections, whether those elections are held before the end of 2019, or early 2020.
Please, ignore the naysayers and those who wish to chastise the honourable chairwoman because of their narrow partisan politics, bitterness, or their obvious lack of experience in legal matters. Best wishes, Chairwoman Singh. Most Guyanese are confident that you will fearlessly execute your duties.