–Myers performing duties until further notice
CHARIPERSON of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh has sent the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, on his accumulated annual leave, pending investigations into alleged electoral fraud, and the completion of proceedings in Guyana’s courts.
There have been mounting calls for Lowenfield and other officials of GECOM to be removed because of their alleged unlawful acts during the eventful five-month elections impasse, following polling day on March 2, 2020.
Senior officials of GECOM, including Lowenfield, and Returning Officer for Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Clairmont Mingo, are before the courts on charges of misconduct in public office.
As reported, those who have also been charged with offences relating to electoral fraud and misconduct in public office are: Chairperson of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Volda Lawrence; Opposition activist, Carol Joseph; Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO), Roxanne Myers; the CEO’s clerks, Michelle Miller and Denise Bob-Cummings; Elections Officer Shefern February; and Information Technology Officer, Enrique Livan.
They are all accused of inflating the results of Region Four, Guyana’s largest voting district, to give the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition a majority win at the March 2 polls, when in fact the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) had won by 15,000 more votes.
The ongoing investigations and court matters had prompted Justice Singh to send Lowenfield on leave.
“He was sent on accumulated leave a while ago; I sent him since they were doing investigations,” the GECOM Chair told the Guyana Chronicle on Sunday, adding that the CEO had 141 days of accumulated leave.
Justice Singh confirmed that Lowenfield was written to and asked to apply for his leave, and that he’d he complied with the request. With the CEO still on leave, Myers has assumed Lowenfield’s duties, and is currently tasked with helping to compile the Commission’s 2021 Budget, and to prepare for the upcoming Local Government Elections (LGE).
The DCEO, while not having all the powers of the CEO, will perform most of the duties.
“She stepped into his shoes, so she was given a responsibility allowance to complete the task… Remember, we have the continuous registration exercise, which we must do in relation to our preparedness for LGE, so she will guide the process until such time,” Justice Singh said, adding: “It is not a one-man process, so the commissioners will overlook everything.”
When asked why Myers, who is also before the court, was not sent on leave, the chairperson said: “We cannot just send home everybody right now; we do not have anybody else, and she is the only one there… You have to get somebody to do the work, and guide the process, and she comes from the secretariat.”
Further deliberations on LGE and the role of Myers will be discussed when the Commission meets on Tuesday.
Although GECOM is moving ahead with its work, there have been clear and continuous calls for persons to be removed immediately from the elections machinery.
In responding to these calls on Saturday, Justice Singh told the Guyana Chronicle: “We have an election petition coming up, and we have people being charged in court… We are going to let that proceed first, and let the court take its course. You cannot just jump up like that; we are looking at the lawfulness in everything.”
Either way, the decision to make any administrative change, as explained by the chairperson, lies with the entire Commission and not just her.
In further explaining this, Justice Singh said: “That is for the Commission, and not me; the Commission will decide on those questions; I cannot decide on them. It is not a one-man Commission; it is the entire Commission which would know what they want, and decide on the way forward.”
This issue has, however, not yet been raised at the level of the Commission, but the chairperson maintained that such a topic would require serious deliberations and discussions.
“We must follow the law; things may look slow, but it is not that they are slow; we are following the law… I do not know what they want us to do; we cannot just jump like that,” Justice Singh said. “It is not that we are going to hold back our people and not do whatever…wherever the axe falls, we will have to work with it,” she added.
And while this issue is by no means secondary, the chairperson reiterated that the Commission has to be mindful of the petition, and the charges against individuals attached to the elections body.
On August 31, 2020, the APNU+AFC coalition, through its lawyer, Roysdale Forde, S.C, filed the election petitions on behalf of Claudette Thorne, while on September 17, Attorney-at-Law Mayo Robertson filed documents on behalf of Heston Bostwick, who wants the High Court to determine the legality of the elections, and the results that led to the declaration and allocation of seats in the National Assembly.
Stakeholders have since posited that this petition cannot be used as a means of delaying or postponing GECOM’s preparedness to hold an election.
And, while Justice Singh was clear that GECOM will continue to follow the laws of Guyana, she said that the Commission is doing everything possible to prepare for Local Government Elections.