Guyana CJ rules recount must be done in Region Four

Date: 
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 - 18:45

Guyana's Chief Jus­tice Rox­ane George has ruled that the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer for the coun­try’s largest elec­toral dis­trict, Dis­trict Four, breached the law in the adding up of State­ments of Poll dur­ing last week's gen­er­al elec­tions and should re­turn to the process, ei­ther afresh or from where they left off.

She thus ruled that the Guyana Elec­tions Com­mis­sion (GECOM) can­not de­clare the over­all re­sults un­til the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer com­plies with the law and set aside the de­c­la­ra­tion of the gen­er­al elec­tion re­sults made last Thurs­day. George al­so or­dered that Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer or the Deputy Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer must re­turn to the process by 11 am Thurs­day (March 12).

 

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from News Room Guyana, George re­port­ed­ly told the court it was sad­den­ing that 19 years af­ter a sim­i­lar case, she had to re­state the words of then Chief Jus­tice De­siree Bernard that GECOM's role is to take ac­tion to en­sure im­par­tial­i­ty, fair­ness and com­pli­ance with the law.

The CJ said every ef­fort must be made to en­sure that every­one is sat­is­fied that the process is fair, adding that con­fi­dence in the elec­toral process must be re­stored.

Reeaz Hol­lan­der, a pri­vate cit­i­zen, sup­port­ed by at­tor­neys from the op­po­si­tion PPP, had filed an in­junc­tion block­ing the an­nounce­ment of an over­all win­ner of the March 2 elec­tions once it in­clud­ed the un­ver­i­fied vote count of the votes cast. Hol­lan­der ar­gued that the process of ver­i­fi­ca­tion is re­ferred to in the law as “count­ing of the votes polled” and is pro­vid­ed for by Sec­tion 84 (1) of the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Peo­ple Act, Chap­ter 1:03.

The law states that the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer shall, “in the pres­ence of such of the per­sons en­ti­tled” to be there as­cer­tain the to­tal votes cast in favour of the par­ties.

Sec­tion 86 (1) lists the per­sons who shall be present at the count­ing of the votes.

These per­sons in­clude:

(A) The Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer, and such oth­er Elec­tions Of­fi­cer ap­point­ed by him

(B) The Elec­tions Com­mis­sion

(C) Du­ly ap­point­ed Can­di­dates

(D) Count­ing Agents

(E) Such oth­er per­sons, as in the opin­ion of the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer, have good rea­son to be present.

Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cers for nine of the ten elec­toral dis­tricts fol­lowed what the law states and had par­ty agents and lo­cal and for­eign ob­servers present. How­ev­er, this was not done by the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer Clair­mont Min­go for the dis­put­ed Dis­trict Four re­gion. Nei­ther can­di­dates of the Op­po­si­tion PPP nor ob­servers were present when the votes for the dis­trict were de­clared.

George ruled that the pro­vi­sions are de­signed to en­sure trans­paren­cy.

Dis­trict Four had 897 polling sta­tions but the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer on­ly al­lowed oth­ers to be present for the tab­u­la­tion of 421 State­ments of Poll and abort­ed the process af­ter. He then de­clared the votes count­ed and hand­ed it to the coun­try’s Chief Elec­tions Of­fi­cer, who went ahead and pre­pared a fi­nal re­port of all ten elec­toral dis­tricts for GECOM to de­clare a win­ner.

Six af­fi­davits were pre­sent­ed in the case Tues­day, in­clud­ing from the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer and the Deputy Chief Elec­tions Of­fi­cer Rox­anne Mey­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to T&T-born Se­nior Coun­sel Dou­glas Mendes, who rep­re­sent­ed Hol­lan­der, the af­fi­davits of Mey­ers, Bond and Trot­man all agree that the process de­scribed in law was sus­pend­ed some­time on the evening of March 4 and it was to re­sume on March 5. Their wit­ness was dif­fer­ent from that of the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer, who claimed the en­tire process was com­plet­ed on the night of March 4.

The Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer swore to the court that at around 11 am last Wednes­day (March 4), he be­gan feel­ing un­well and went up­stairs and in­struct­ed Se­nior Clerk Michelle Miller to con­tin­ue the process. He said that he had to be rushed to the hos­pi­tal, but again, left Miller in charge. He said by that evening, Miller, along with oth­ers, in­putted in­for­ma­tion, pur­port­ed­ly from the State­ments of Poll, in­to the com­put­er and then pro­duced a spread­sheet. That in­for­ma­tion as then used by Min­go to pro­duce a tab­u­la­tion which he then de­clared on Thurs­day at around 2 pm.

How­ev­er, the Deputy Chief Elec­tions Of­fi­cer, in her ev­i­dence, stat­ed that some­time on Wednes­day, the use of the spread­sheets was dis­con­tin­ued and the process was re­vert­ed to ver­i­fi­ca­tion from the State­ments of Poll.

Mendes al­so ar­gued that it was the re­spon­si­bil­i­ty of the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer to do the adding up, but that he can ap­point oth­er elec­tions of­fi­cers. In this case, he said, Miller was a se­nior clerk and not an elec­tions of­fi­cer and so she could not have been used or des­ig­nat­ed by the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer.

He said if the le­gal process was not fol­lowed it could lead to mis­trust, sus­pi­cion and lack of con­fi­dence in re­sults de­clared and so there should be no rea­son why the court should not or­der to set aside the de­c­la­ra­tion of the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer.

Se­nior Coun­sel Neil Boston, rep­re­sent­ing Min­go, ar­gued that the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer can adopt what­ev­er method­ol­o­gy he de­cides he will pur­sue to come up with the re­sults. Boston said the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer can sit with the per­sons who are en­ti­tled to be there and he will go through the State­ments of Poll, or he can pre­pare a spread­sheet from the State­ments he has and there­after de­clare what the amount of votes re­ceived by each par­ty.

Boston ar­gued that the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer is du­ty-bound to re­ly on the State­ments of Poll which were re­mit­ted to him from the var­i­ous polling places. Ac­cord­ing to Boston, the Re­turn­ing Of­fi­cer does not have to go through a pe­ri­od of re­solv­ing dis­crep­an­cies that arise in re­la­tion to the State­ments of Polls. He said re­solv­ing any dis­pute is pro­vid­ed for af­ter a de­c­la­ra­tion of the count is made, with Sec­tion 84 (2) pro­vid­ing for a re­count.

Boston al­so ar­gued that even if Min­go did not com­ply by do­ing a count in the pres­ence of peo­ple who were en­ti­tled to be there, it does not in­val­i­date what was done nor did it in­val­i­date the de­c­la­ra­tion made by him.

When the vote count for nine re­gions had been ver­i­fied and de­clared, the Op­po­si­tion PPP had won six of the nine re­gions and was 52,000 votes ahead. But with the un­ver­i­fied re­port of Re­gion Four, the AP­NU+AFC Coali­tion was put in the lead and on course to win the elec­tions.

The rul­ing came even as a CARI­COM del­e­ga­tion, led by chair­per­son, Bar­ba­dos Prime Min­is­ter Mia Mot­t­ley, ar­rived in the coun­try on a two-day spe­cial mis­sion to try and help re­store calm and over­see the process in the sit­u­a­tion which has de­vel­oped due to the elec­tion dis­pute.

She was ac­com­pa­nied by Do­mini­ca Prime Min­is­ter Roo­sevelt Sker­rit, St Vin­cent and the Grenadines Prime Min­is­ter Ralph Gon­salves, Grena­da Prime Min­is­ter Kei­th Mitchell and Trinidad and To­ba­go Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley.

The del­e­ga­tion was wel­comed by AP­NU+AFC leader David Granger on their ar­rival.

 

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