Life imprisonment, millions in fines for electoral breaches
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The proposed amendment to the RoPA includes a “general- penalty provision,” which stipulates a $10 million fine and life imprisonment for any person who contravenes any aspect of the Act
The proposed amendment to the RoPA includes a “general- penalty provision,” which stipulates a $10 million fine and life imprisonment for any person who contravenes any aspect of the Act

— proposed RoPA amendments also outline hefty ‘general’ penalties

TO ensure that Guyana never faces a recurrence of last year’s six-month-long elections debacle, stricter consequences for electoral breaches have been outlined in government’s proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA).

The proposed amendments are currently in the public domain for review and feedback, ahead of its presentation to the National Assembly.

With Guyanese voters still awaiting Statements of Poll (SoP) from the former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), the amendments assert that going forward, all SoPs must be promptly certified and posted on the Guyana Elections Commission’s website by the Chief Elections Officer (CEO).

It outlined that the CEO would be committing an offence should he or she “post or caused to be posted, an electronic copy of a statement of poll that is not a true copy of the certified copy of the Statement of Poll delivered to him, or that contains a false statement.”

Such a breach, according to the amendments, would see the CEO being “liable on summary conviction to a fine of ten million dollars and to imprisonment for life.”

The amended document also outlines strict penalties for persons such as the returning officers who supply the CEO with falsified tabulation forms.

“A person who fails to deliver to the Chief Elections Officer a true, certified copy of a Tabulation Form… or who delivers a Tabulation Form with falsified information commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of ten million dollars and to imprisonment for life,” the amendments indicated.

Similar consequences also apply in cases where the CEO fails to calculate the total number of votes on the basis of information contained in the District Tabulation Forms, which are the only basis for the calculation of votes.

As it is, former GECOM CEO Keith Lowenfield is before the court on charges pertaining to electoral fraud, having attempted to declare the 2020 General and Regional Elections in favour of the then APNU+AFC Government, using figures provided by the Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, who is also before the courts, having been accused of inflating the Region Four votes in favour of the APNU+AFC.

SPLITTING OF REGION FOUR
With Region Four being the largest voting district and the most problematic as the previous elections would indicate, it is proposed that the region be split into sub-districts with each having its own returning officer, who ultimately reports to the Region Four Returning Officer.

The amendments also outline a $10 million fine and 10 years jail for a sub-district returning officer who fails to submit a true and certified copy of the Sub-district Tabulation Form to the Region Four Returning Officer.
Nonetheless, in relation to the physical copies of the SoPs which are hung outside each polling station at the close of polls, persons found removing or tampering with these would be liable to a fine $10 million as well as 10 years in prison.

JAIL TIME FOR PRESIDING OFFICERS
The amendments also include a new section of the laws, section 68A, which speaks to the role of the presiding officers and the consequences that come with failing to execute their functions. Simply put, the Presiding Officer is the person who oversees the operations of their respective polling stations.

The law stipulates that at the opening of polls, the Presiding Officer has the responsibility of ensuring that polling agents are furnished with several documents, including a copy of the official list of electors or part of the list, as the case may require, containing the names of the electors entitled to vote at the polling place; a copy of the list of proxies; and the number of Statements of Poll forms issued to the presiding officer, along with a copy of the registration records of the electors.

“The copies of the lists given to each polling agent… shall remain the property of the polling agent after the close of poll,” the amended law indicated.
It further warned that a Presiding Officer who fails to execute their functions in accordance with the law, will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of five million dollars and to imprisonment for 10 years.
Similar consequences also apply if a Presiding Officer allows a non-eligible person to vote.

Additionally, Section 83 of the amended laws state at every stage of the established voting procedure, the Presiding Officer “shall give every opportunity to the duly appointed candidate, counting agent and polling agent or alternate polling agent entitled to be present as attended to verify or ascertain every count, to examine every ballot and information recorded and to make objections or ask questions where necessary; and the polling agent or alternate polling agent shall remain in the polling station throughout every procedure.”

Again, a Presiding Officer’s failure also attracts a $10 million fine and an accompanying 10-year prison sentence.

GENERAL-PENALTY PROVISION
Meanwhile, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, which almost lost the elections owing to falsified information, seems not to be taking any chances. As a result, the proposed amendment to RoPA includes a “general penalty provision” which specifies that any person who contravenes any provision of the Act for which a penalty is not provided, would also be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10 million and to imprisonment for life.
Another new section has been proposed for RoPA, in Section 150B which speaks to election manuals.
It states that “Any election manual to be made for use at any election shall be made, posted on the commission’s website and copies given to the political parties within 30 days of the date of the President’s proclamation of the election date.”

And, that “No provision of an election manual shall be inconsistent with any provision of this Act or any other law.” Any such document, the draft amendment stated, would be considered null and void.
The need to amend Guyana’s electoral laws stemmed from the events of the March 2, 2020 elections, which were plagued with much violence and drama, which lasted for six months leading up to the August 2, 2020 swearing-in of President Dr. Irfaan Ali.

As a result of the debacle, several constitutional officers were fired from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), including Lowenfield, his Deputy Roxanne Myers and Mingo, who are all facing charges relating to electoral fraud.

Additionally, 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.

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