— as Opposition Commissioners log out of virtual meeting
WHEN members of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) met on Tuesday, they were expected to vote on three motions to terminate the contracts of Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield; his deputy, Roxanne Myers; and the District Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo. However, this could not be done since the Opposition Commissioners refused to have the vote be put to the floor.
According to pro-government commissioner, Sase Gunraj, the representatives from the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) did not want the motions to contain references that clearly outline the reasons behind the motions, and the allegations of electoral fraud that stemmed from the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.
As the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) representatives continued to press for the motions to be voted on, the Opposition Commissioners exited the virtual meeting.
“They logged off,” Gunraj related. He noted that even though the move by the Opposition is disappointing, it is not one that is “out of the ordinary”.
As a matter of fact, Gunraj said that it is “a continuation of the shenanigans that we [the PPP/C] are accustomed to.”
FORCED TO ADJOURN
As a result of the abrupt exit, Chairwoman of GECOM, Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh, was forced to adjourn the meeting until Thursday. Gunraj is hoping that at that meeting, once there is a quorum, the motions “can go to finality”.
“On Thursday, whoever shows up, that constitutes a quorum, so we can proceed with or without them [the Opposition GECOM commissioners],” Gunraj added.
Initially, Gunraj, along with his PPP/C colleagues, Bibi Shadick and Manoj Narayan, filed three separate motions which sought to have the embattled trio dismissed from their respective positions at GECOM. However, as the hearing on these motions continued to face delays, the PPP/C commissioners sought to have the submissions amended to also consider the termination of contracts, which is catered for in the employment agreements of all three employees.
PPP/C Commissioner and Attorney-at-Law, Bibi Shadick, had previously explained that with the amendments, GECOM has been presented with more options of ridding itself of Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo. “We are not removing the option of dismissal; we are doing this as an alternative to say that if the Commission does not find [grounds] to dismiss [Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo], then there is the possibility of terminating their contracts,” Shadick told the Guyana Chronicle during a previous interview. She further opined that based on all the evidence that is currently before it, “The Commission can very well choose to dismiss” the trio, based on the fact that they are statutory officers who were guilty of breaching the law during last year’s elections.
Shadick reminded that should the officers be dismissed, they would still be afforded the opportunity of seeking legal recourse, “because there are legal remedies available to them”.
Nonetheless, should GECOM pursue the termination of their contacts instead of having them dismissed, the three officers could still stand to benefit, or, as Shadick termed it, “be rewarded for bad behaviour,” since they could have their contracts terminated, and still be able to capitalise on the payments offered in lieu of notice.
Shadick, however, said that once a person’s contract is terminated, their legal options would be significantly limited since “an employer cannot be forced into hiring an employee” it does not want to hire. “At the end of the day, though, our goal is that they [Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo] must not work in the secretariat of GECOM anymore. Either option will achieve that result,” Shadick said.
When the dismissal motions were first filed, Lowenfield moved to the courts to prevent Shadick and Gunraj from debating and voting on the issue, since it was the latter who had brought the motion, and she who had seconded it. At GECOM’s previous meeting, the opposition-nominated commissioners walked out of the engagement in support of those very arguments put forth by Lowenfield. Now, even though Lowenfield has quashed the case, voting on the motion is still being delayed.
It must be noted that due to the construct of GECOM, which has three nominated commissioners representing each of the two major political parties, the ultimate success of the motions rest on the vote of GECOM’s Chairperson, Justice Singh.
It has been almost 17 months since Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo have been accused of attempting to thwart the outcome of the elections. Despite being criminally charged on various counts of electoral fraud, they remain at their substantive posts at GECOM.
As it is, Lowenfield is faced with three counts of Misconduct in Public Office, and three counts of Forgery, while Mingo was charged with four counts of Misconduct in Public Office, and Myers with two counts of Misconduct in Public Office. In addition to Lowenfield, Mingo and Myers, Chairperson of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Volda Lawrence; Opposition activist, Carol Joseph; the CEO’s clerks, Michelle Miller and Denise Bob-Cummings; Elections Officer, Shefern February, and Information Technology Officer, Enrique Livan, were also charged.
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, 2020 polls, when in fact the PPP/C had won by 15,000 votes. Based on the events of the 2020 elections, President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, has insisted that it is not wise for Guyana to have any other elections over which Lowenfield, Myers and Mingo are allowed to preside. It is for this reason that the Head of State has refrained from announcing a date for the country’s Local Government Elections, even though $1.1 billion has already been budgeted in 2021 for this purpose.