– as GECOM given Jan. 29 deadline to hand over SoPs, SoRs
By Navendra Seoraj
THE Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), specifically the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield, has been given until January 29, 2021, to submit to the High Court, all Statements of Poll (SoPs) and Statements of Recount (SoRs) from the March 2, 2020, general and regional elections.
Election documents, particularly SoPs, were the subject of contention during events following the polls, as several requests by contesting parties and international organisations to view those documents were denied.
Such an outcome is, however, unlikely this time around as the High Court has ordered that those documents, which are reportedly in the possession of Lowenfield, be submitted for safekeeping, ahead of the hearing on an elections petition which was filed by petitioners on behalf of the political opposition, A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition.
The Sunday Chronicle understands that the SoPs and SoRs, which are to be submitted to the court, are reportedly being kept in a container, which is in the custody of Lowenfield, who, along with other GECOM officials, is facing several election fraud charges.
Chief Justice, Roxane George, SC, in striking out one of two elections petitions submitted on behalf of the political opposition, ruled last week Monday that the first petition, 88 of 2020, will be heard in the court, but agreed that, ahead of that, the SoPs and SoRs must be submitted for ‘safekeeping’.
Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh, has since confirmed that the High Court order was served, and it states that those documents must be submitted on or before January 29, 2021.
“The documents must be lodged. They will be lodged during next week,” Justice Singh said during an interview with the Sunday Chronicle.
The chairperson, when asked about the storage of those documents, cited Section 102 of the Representation of the People’s Act, Chapter 103, which states that the CEO is the ‘custodian’ of all election documents.
“He is the keeper of all those documents and he has them in his custody…I would not know where he stores them…I understand they are in some container, but I would not know because he is the custodian,” Justice Singh said during the telephone interview.
She noted, however, that Section 19 of the National Assembly (Validity of Elections) Act empowers the judge in an election court to make an order for the CEO to hand those documents over to the court.
“She [Justice George] can take those documents,” Justice Singh asserted, adding that this is provided for by law.
When asked about preparations to submit those documents this week, the chairperson said that the CEO and the Registrar of the Supreme Court will be working collaboratively to complete the process. The elections commission, she said, will, however, be in a better position to talk about this on Monday.
The idea of having those documents lodged at the court was incited by attorneys, Douglas Mendes and Kashir Khan, who both requested that, in moving forward with the hearing of petition 88 of 2020, certain documents such as SoPs and SoRs, must be lodged with the registrar of the court for safekeeping.
Mendes specifically reminded the court that the Representation of the People’s Act allows the CEO to destroy all elections documents after a 12-month period would have elapsed. The Chief Justice agreed to the requests and granted an order for the SoPs and SoRs to be submitted to the court. There are 2, 339 Statements of Poll.
Subsequent to the March 2, 2020 elections, in the same month, High Court Judge, Franklyn Holder, had refused an application made to him for GECOM to produce SOPs for District Four. Following a slew of legal challenges and international intervention, a national recount of all votes cast was convened and the figures showed that the PPP/C received 233,336 votes while the APNU+AFC coalition got 217,920 votes.
Both the SoPs and SoRs are expected to serve as evidence when the elections petition comes up in the court for hearing. Justice George has ruled that the second elections petition, 99 of 2020, is invalid on the basis that the second named respondent, former President, David Granger, was served the petition after the prescribed time for service would have expired.
In delivering her ruling on this matter, the Chief Justice said: “The same cannot be said for petition 88 of 2020, as the procedures in filing and serving were fully complied with…indeed, to permit 99 of 2020 to proceed would be a disservice to the petitioners who ensured they complied.”
In the first petition, 88 of 2020, petitioners Claudette Thorne and Heston Bostwick want the court to determine, among other things, questions regarding whether the elections had been lawfully conducted or whether the results had been, or might have been affected by any unlawful act or omission and, in consequence thereof, whether the seats in the National Assembly had been lawfully allocated.
Justice George has since given attorney-at-Law, Roysdale Forde, who is representing the petitioners, until February 12 to file his submissions and the respondents, including the Attorney -General, until March 19, to file submissions in reply. The parties must return to court on April 7, 2021, barring any directions by e-mail.