–GECOM’s IT manager tells COI DCEO instructed him to breach ‘emergency protocols’
FORMER Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) Roxanne Myers continues to feature as one of the key persons involved in the botched effort in 2020 to divert votes from the PPP/C to APNU+AFC, even directing staff to breach protocols established by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in cases of an emergency.
The written protocol was to be deployed in the event of a disaster such as a bomb threat, which surfaced on March 05, 2020, at the Ashmin’s Building, GECOM’s central operations centre at the time.
However, GECOM’s Information Technology Department Manager Aneal Giddings, on Thursday testified that Myers instructed him on several occasions to breach the established protocols.
Giddings made this disclosure when he appeared before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the March 2, 2020 elections.
Giddings was in charge of the tabulation centre, which was responsible for tabulating the Chief Elections Officer (CEO)’s copies of Statements of Poll (SOPs), with the objective of complying with the requirement for then CEO, Keith Lowenfield to submit a digital or electronic report to GECOM’s commissioners.
Giddings testified that he had 41 persons under his command at the tabulation centre. Those persons worked under a shift system because, as he knew it, they were required to work until the end, continuously, without stopping, until the completion of the entire elections process.
Among the many discrepancies highlighted in Giddings’ testimony was that Myers requested a flash drive with all the tabulated information, as of March 5, 2020. She took the drive and never returned it.
According to Giddings, Myers also instructed him to leave the server in the building, despite the fact that the emergency protocol dictated that the server be removed.
Giddings said that in light of the bomb threat that prevailed on March 5, he made a decision to power off and remove the server from the facility for its security and protection. He was following protocol, as contained in GECOM’s IT division disaster recovery plan.
Giddings told the Commission that the plan allows for the removal of the server from the premises in situations such as a bomb threat. He said that in the process of removing the drive, Myers entered the tabulation centre, whereupon he told her about the action he was taking.
Giddings said that Myers then instructed him not to proceed, but rather “leave the server in its place, and evacuate the building.” This is despite the fact that she herself made no attempt to evacuate the premises.
Giddings said that the IT division is considered the custodian of the server and similar equipment. Therefore, he proceeded to remove the server, even as Myers repeatedly instructed, “Leave it! Leave it!”
Having secured the drive in his personal vehicle, which remained in the parking lot of Ashmin’s Building, an area that was fenced and enjoyed the benefit of surveillance and security guards, Giddings then joined GECOM staffers under his command at the designated muster point in the vicinity of the Ashmin’s Building.
Giddings testified that about 30 minutes after the drive was removed, Myers contacted him, via cellphone, demanding that he “Return the server and power it back on!”
Giddings said he immediately inquired if the building was cleared of the threat, to which he received no response. The instruction was repeated by Myers after which she ended the call.
Giddings recalled that shortly after that occurrence, he observed persons re-entering the building. He then instructed his subordinates to remain at the muster while he re-entered the building to ascertain whether the building was cleared of the threat.
Giddings said he encountered Myers while he was making his way to the tabulation centre, whereupon she again instructed that he return the server, and he, in turn, again asked about the bomb threat. But all the DCEO did was walk away.
Giddings said that he then sought guidance from GECOM Chairman Justice Claudette Singh, who was nearby, and her advice to him was that he should return to the building with the server and his staff. He complied, as he took this to mean that the Chairman was in receipt of information that the building was clear.
Giddings said that after he caused the return of his staff and server, he proceeded to prepare for the resumption of tabulation, but Myers entered the tabulation centre and said that due to a breach of procedure against the instruction of the secretariat, the process had to be halted. The breach to which Myers referred was the removal of the server.
Myers then instructed everyone to go home; Giddings included. He said that the staff under his command left, but he and the database administrator remained at the centre.
Giddings said that there were many unprocessed SOPs at the centre.
“I did not think I could have simply walked out, knowing that those documents were signed for by staffers under my command, and were not signed out to where it was intended to go,” Giddings told the COI.
He testified that he, therefore, felt the need to stay behind, and organise and categorise those documents, and to secure the server and other pieces of equipment that he deemed to be of critical national importance.
Giddings said that he placed masking tape on the server, and made marks that extended from beyond the tape on to the server. He said that this was done in an effort to make tampering difficult.
“It would have been difficult to realign those marks, having removed the tape,” Giddings noted.
He then powered off the server, took photos of the protected measures he’d employed, and went on to organise the SOPs.
During this process, Myers made contact via the cellphone of the database administrator.
Giddings recalled Myers’ words. She asked: “Aneal, are you doing something unlawful with the SOPs?” He said he responded in the negative, saying that he was assembling them to have them sent to her office.
According to Giddings, Myers was firm in her response: “No, no, no!” she said. “You are to leave everything, and leave the centre!”
Giddings told the Commission that at this point, he was almost finished organising and securing everything, therefore, he concluded the process before exiting the Ashmin’s Building.
He testified that he did not return to the Ashmin’s Building until March 23, at which point he observed that several items were missing.
He said that he retrieved the remainder of the items and returned to headquarters. He then wrote to Lowenfield, informing him about the missing items, but unfortunately, he never responded to that letter.