— say regional scholars; deem decisions by Appeal Court in elections cases ‘questionable’
TWO University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturers have labelled the decisions of the Guyana Court of Appeal in the series of litigation which followed the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections as questionable and called for a reform of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).
The lecturers, Dr. Ronnie Yearwood, Lecturer in Law and Cynthia Barrow-Giles, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, were at the time delivering a lecture as part of the UWI Cave Hill Campus, Faculty of Law, Working Paper Series titled “The Judiciary and the 2020 Guyana Elections” on Thursday last.
Barrow-Giles was a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) High Level Team for the Recount of the Vote for the 2020 elections in Guyana in March 2020 and she served as Team Leader of the CARICOM Observer Mission for the recount of the March 2020 General and Regional Elections in May 2020.
During their presentation, with reference to the Appeal Court decisions, the academics also scrutinised whether there was a breach of the separation of powers.
“Some of the judgements that came out of the Court of Appel are highly questionable,” Barrow-Giles said, and, while making it clear that she is not trying to “impute” anyone, she suggested that the reasons for the decisions might be influenced by the process used to appointment officers of the court.
“Certainly, there might be a connection with the appointment process and some of the judgements but, certainly, in relation to the Caribbean, one of the things that we have to focus on is the need to ensure that we really have a complete separation of powers in the region,” she emphasised.
Her colleague, Dr. Yearwood highlighted that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Guyana’s apex court, upheld the decisions of the High Court, and it was only at the Court of Appeal level where decisions went “awry”.
“It was often the Court of Appeal where the judgement seems to go awry and then the CCJ correcting the Court of Appeal to say actually what the High Court originally ruled as the exclusive court to deal with electoral matters was right so we often saw that happen,” he said.
The two university lecturers published an article titled ‘CARICOM and the 2020 unsettled elections in Guyana: a failed political (legal) solution?’ on September 30, 2020 in The Round Table, the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.
The article explored the current political and legal issues surrounding the delay in the declaration of the regional and general election held on March 2, 2020 in the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
Barrow-Giles has also criticised the composition of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and posited that one of the most important things that must be accomplished as part of Guyana’s constitutional reform is for GECOM to be restructured.
“GECOM does not serve Guyana well at all … GECOM is really a political party, a partisan organisation and in the context of the problems that Guyana has been experiencing over the years, I don’t think that it serves the purpose of Guyana,” she said.
She contended that the method of selection of the commissioners is flawed, as the commission is made up for three commissioners from the ruling political party, and three from the main opposition party, with a Chairman who is selected after consultation between the President and the Leader of the Opposition.
Whoever is the Chair of GECOM, the academic said will always find himsef/herself in a very difficult situation but pointed out that GECOM is a powerful institution as it enjoys constitutional protection and must be independent.
Following the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, GECOM took five months to deliver the verified count of votes, after multiple attempts by elements in the commission to alter the results in favour of the APNU+AFC, which was in government at the time.
In August 2021, after weeks of deliberation and multiple delays, GECOM voted to terminate the employment contracts of its three statutory officers, namely Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield; Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Roxanne Myers and District Four Returning Officer for the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections, Clairmont Mingo, who have been accused of electoral fraud.
Since then, GECOM has begun advertising with the intention of filling some of the key vacancies within its secretariat; the appointments of persons to these key positions will clear the way for the hosting of Local Government Elections (LGEs) which are due this year.
Currently, Lowenfield is faced with three counts of Misconduct in Public Office, and three counts of Forgery, while Mingo is 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 the elections by 15,000 votes.
President Dr. Irfaan Ali had committed to launching a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to examine what transpired during the five months following polling day on March 2, 2020.
The Head of State had said his government is “committed” to identifying the individuals who were involved in attempts to derail the process and pinpointing possible areas of weakness that can be used to guide the required strengthening of Guyana’s electoral system.