An analysis: The CoI into the 2020 polls

FROM the outset, President, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali and the Guyanese people were determined to arrive at the truth surrounding the series of events and circumstances which led to the political disaster and chaos in the process to declare Guyana’s 2020 General and Regional elections results.

President Ali, last year March, finally decided to set up a Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to probe the election controversy.

It took several months to get everything in place, legally and administratively, but finally, the probe started in November 2022 and ended on February 10, 2023.

Throughout the hearings, Guyanese heard from some of the officials at the centre of all of the controversies including election observers, the GECOM Chairperson Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh, GECOM staff, the police, and those politicians who were integrally involved in the process either as scrutineers, party election agents or parties of interest.

The Chairman of the CoI was Justice (ret’d), Stanley John. Other Commissioners were former Chancellor of the Judiciary (Guyana), Carl Singh and High Court Judge (Belize) and former Justice of Appeal (ag) in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Godfrey P Smith. They all sat through a treasure trove of evidence, both physical and electronic, as it was being submitted in the election probe.

Now that they have wrapped up the hearings, it is time to do an analysis to somehow arrive at the truth or some semblance of it.

Firstly, there is no shadow of a doubt in the minds of right-thinking, decent, and objective Guyanese that there was an attempt to derail Guyana’s democracy by the political directorate of the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change Coalition (APNU+AFC).

Evidence at the CoI proves this wicked and vile act was in full swing after the elections had been fully completed and all the Statements of Poll (SOPs) were accounted for.

Just listen to the statements of the GECOM officials at every level who participated throughout the first count and recount process, as well as the evidence given about the alleged unscrupulous, suspicious, and questionable conduct of the Region Number Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo, at specific points when there was a need for his presence.

The APNU+AFC probably knew what they were doing from day one after the SOPs were counted, because it is reasonable to think that they knew the PPP/C had won the elections, but sought to frustrate the process by devious means.

They would be found guilty by actual evidence and circumstantial evidence by any competent court of jurisdiction after listening to the gripping evidence submitted to this CoI.

Secondly, after former Presidents, David Granger and Bharrat Jagdeo, reached the mutual agreement that former Justice Singh would be appointed Chairperson of GECOM in 2019, the politicians in the APNU+AFC sought to exploit her newness, and unfamiliarity, perhaps, with the functions and responsibilities of the GECOM chair.

This made Justice Singh a walkover for the then Chief Executive Officer, Keith Lowenfield and other senior GECOM staff who had already begun to show signs of disrespect and scorn towards the new Chair.

Maybe, Justice Singh’s non-action and leave-to-be-done attitude must be flagged and should cause the CoI to give her some responsibility in the plot to rig the elections from within.

If this is true, Guyanese would see this, particularly, as a travesty and shame and dereliction of duty, because the GECOM Chairperson must be vigilant, ever-watchful and know the law fully not just on paper, but by heart.

After all, it is an undeniable historical fact that the same PNC turned APNU rigged the elections of 1968, 1973, 1980 and 1985, as well as the referendum in 1978.

Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, the use of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) in their tirade and desperate attempt to disrespect and trample on the rights of every Guyanese voter that exercised their franchise in 2020 is evident.

Any Guyanese can see the carefully and strategically used language of all the police officers in the hierarchy of the GPF, who testified at that time. Just look at the evidence given by then Police Commissioner Leslie James, and former Commander of the City Division, Edgar Thomas, as to who gave the instructions for the police to appear and clear the Ashmins Building. Someone in the entire process is still trying to hide the truth and it is not Thomas.

The whole incident proves that the GPF, at that time, was neither interested in safeguarding the interest of the populace, nor remaining professional. It was not apolitical, but was very favourable to the APNU+AFC politicians and their attempts to keep the transfer of power from taking place.

The CoI Commissioners must look at every bit of electronic evidence and place it within the legal timeframe of events that caused Guyana to go under for five months. If they do not feel that the police were used and then thrown under the bus, then they need glasses, because even a child of two years could see that!

Fourthly, the CoI has to pay keen attention to the evidence given by GECOM officials and the former employees who refused to testify for dubious and questionable reasons.

It must look at all the persons summoned and who did appear from the APNU+AFC party, but exercised their right not to give evidence out of fear that it would incriminate them. This is laughable, because they are hoping that their silence would stymie the outcome of the probe. However, there is already evidence to incriminate all the persons who did not testify but were summoned.

Their silence is golden, or it may be seen as consent.

Similarly, independent commentators, writers and outspoken experts have failed to say anything about the sometimes earth-shattering, mind-boggling and riveting things that come out of the CoI hearings which were open to the public. The rebuttals and points of these civil society groups and non-governmental organizations have gone muted and quiet.

Finally, justice and truth are separate concepts in Guyana’s society. As a nation, Guyana might be able to arrive at the truth of what actually happened in the lead-up to, during and after those elections, but may never arrive at the point of justice.

No one might actually be prosecuted criminally, even though the commissioners may recommend a certain legal course of action, as well as administrative changes that are to be made to guard against what took place during the 2020 elections.

GECOM and its secretariat must undergo much-needed reforms from within first, and the structure must be closely looked at now.

The police must be mandated to maintain an apolitical posture and non-interference in the elections as far as is legally and administratively possible; not encroaching on its other functions which are all clearly outlined in its standard operating procedures.

As for the riggers, that is up for discussion, because they are not showing signs of stopping or slowing down; the leopard never really changes its spots, but stricter systems MUST be implemented.


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