–observer says, laments zeros turned into eights on ‘Mingo’s SOPs’ in favour of ‘coalition’
BACK in March 2020, in the days following the Regional and General Elections, Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) staffers took direct instructions from APNU+AFC agents that were contrary to the law and known procedures.
Further, GECOM staffers ignored specific instructions from the court, used materials that were illegal and or manipulated, and sided with APNU+AFC agents to berate observers whenever objections were raised.
Those accounts form part of the testimony delivered on Monday by Rosalinda Rasul, who served as an election observer on behalf of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Guyana.
She appeared before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the General and Regional Elections of March 2020.
Rasul told the commission that she observed the process from the beginning on March 2. She recalled witnessing the formulation of Statements of Poll (SOP) at a polling station in Mon Repos. Rasul said that that was done in a lawful manner with all known procedures being followed.
But when she visited the Ashmin building, it was a whole different ball game. Things didn’t run nearly as smoothly there.
Rasul, like most other witnesses thus far, recalled the use of a spreadsheet by GECOM staff for the verification and tabulation exercise.
She said, given that neither party agents nor observers had copies of the documents and that it was a deviation from known procedure, several objections were raised.
But the two female GECOM staff who employed the use of the spreadsheet could not provide answers to the many questions raised.
“They said they were only there to call numbers,” Rasul said.
She added that, eventually, Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, went into the tabulation room and told party agents and observers that the spreadsheet, to which he referred to as a broadsheet, was utilised in the name of expedience. But he refused to answer questions as to where the spreadsheet originated.
Rasul testified that she tried approaching Lowenfield directly in an effort to source a copy of the spreadsheet. But when she asked him for a copy, Lowenfield responded: “Don’t do that to me.”
Rasul said that she was not quite sure what that statement meant, but Lowenfield’s body language was quite dismissive.
Nevertheless, her efforts to source the document did not end there.
Rasul told the commission that she then approached the Deputy Chief Elections Office (DCEO), Roxanne Myers, who indicated that she would have tried to provide a copy of the document. But Myers never made good on that promise.
She said that even after all the objections and all the failed attempts by her and others to get a copy of the document, “Lowenfield had his way” and the “broadsheet” was used to call out the votes.
The observer said that party agents for the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and smaller political parties continued asking questions and raising concerns about the use of a “broadsheet”, but those were not addressed by GECOM.
Instead, Basil Willimas, the then Attorney-General and APNU+AFC agent, opted to handle concerns. His method was to berate everyone.
He also said that the concerns about the numbers and their source were not valid. Williams said they were subjective, not objective.
Rasul said the process then came to a halt as the two female GECOM employees became tired and Lowenfield avoided appointing a replacement.
The observer said that it was only until near midnight on March 4, that Lowenfield found a replacement in Enrique Livan.
When Livan took over, he spent about 19 minutes completing only four SOPs before saying he was not “cut out for this.”
He then took the laptop, the flash and left the room.
Rasul testified about the occurrences that followed, which were in keeping with accounts given by other witnesses.
She said that, eventually, Lowenfield made a commitment to continue the process the morning of March 5.
But when District Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo appeared, he attempted to skip the verification process and went straight to the declaration of results for District Four.
Rasul recalled that Mingo’s efforts were thwarted by party agents who protested. Eventually he was served with a court order and the process was halted.
Days after, when the process resumed at Ashmin’s, Rasul said that Mingo was going to begin verifying from box 4001, but recanted after he received directions from APNU+AFC agent, Carol Joseph to continue where he left off, even though that could not have been verified.
Rasul said that GECOM Commissioner, Robeson Benn told Mingo that his action was in contravention with the Chief Justice’s ruling.
But Mingo ignored him and continued calling numbers that did not coincide with what was reflected on SOPs.
Rasul said that she recognised a pattern of increased number of votes for APNU+AFC and a decreased number for the PPP/C.
Soon enough, Mingo was summoned to court, so he had to leave the Ashmin building. But he instructed a GECOM staffer to continue calling numbers.
Rasul said that after some time, Mingo returned to the Ashmin building saying that the Chief Justice gave instructions for GECOM to display the SOPs for all to see.
He announced that no equipment was at the Ashmin building to facilitate that exercise so the process had to be moved to GECOM Headquarters, Kingston.
At GECOM’s headquarters, numbers were projected against a bed sheet under a shed and the pattern of increased numbers continued. Rasul said that the increase for APNU+AFC was more pronounced on the East Bank than on the East Coast.
She said that she was able to see the projected figures despite them being “faint”.
Rasul related that observers were not allowed to verify the authenticity of the SOPs that were being used. However, what appeared to be SOPs were defiled.
“I saw, most definitely, that the numbers for some of the SOPs for the APNU were scratched with a high number being written, and the numbers for the PPP were scratched with a lower number replacing those.
“On some SOPs where there were zeros for APNU+AFC, those were changed to eight,” Rasul said.
She related that, on the many instances where attempts were made to scrutinise the SOPs, police were called to keep observers and party agents at bay. Rasul’s testimony continues today.