‘No indictments, only facts’ – Election COI opens
With roughly 20 witnesses already lined up to recount their observations of the March 02, 2020 elections and the five months that followed until the results were declared in August, the long-awaited Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) will begin public hearings on Friday, November 04.
And though the government has promised to use the CoI to hold responsible those who attempted to change the outcome of the election, the Commission has said that is not its mandate.
According to Chairman of the CoI, Justice of the Appeal (retired) of Turks and Caicos Stanley John, the inquiry is to find out the facts of what occurred, why it occurred, who is responsible and what can be done to prevent a recurrence.
“We stress that in an inquiry of this nature there is no claimant and defendant, no prosecutor or accused, no pleadings, charges or indictments,” Justice John said.
He is supported in his duties by 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.
The proceedings are open to the public and will be live-streamed.
Promising to conduct the inquiry with “utmost care and expeditiously”, hearings are expected to be completed by the end of January 2023 and a report submitted roughly by the end of March 2023.
Starting Thursday, the Commissioners will visit offices at the Guyana Election Commission and familiarize themselves with necessary situations and information.
The Commission will sit on weekdays from 09:00hrs until 16:00 hrs with a two-hour break for lunch.
The COI Chairman said, “It is public knowledge that the tabulation and verification process for declaring the outcome of those elections were mired in intense controversy.”
The former APNU+AFC coalition government is accused of being in concert with former Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield and others to fraudulently change the outcome of the elections in favour of the then David Granger-led government.
A recount confirmed that the PPP/C won the elections and Ali was sworn in as President on August 2, 2020, five months after the elections were held.
“From any perspective and by my own standard, such an unprecedented state of affairs is serious enough to justify an objective and impartial inquiry,” Justice John added.
Following the inquiry, the government will receive recommendations for fixing faults found in the electoral system.
Evidence during inquiry will be led by Trinidadian Senior Counsel Sophia Chota and other Counsels include Natasha Veira and Keoma Griffith.
CoI Secretary Javed Shadick told reporters on Thursday that more witnesses are coming forward willingly but as the hearings proceed the Commissioners will have to decide on who needs to be subpoenaed.
He did not provide the names of the witnesses already listed, saying “we don’t want anyone to be threatened.”
Two years on, the APNU+AFC Coalition is opposing the CoI even as several of its party members and former GECOM officials are before the courts for electoral fraud-related charges.
Shadick would not specifically address the willing participation of members of the former APNU+AFC administration.
“There are many persons who played a part. There are observers, presiding officers, GECOM officials, the press. We were all there and persons from each of those categories willing to come forward,” he said.