‘I was afraid for my life’ – GECOM Chair refused phone calls, locked herself away at height of elections crisis

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The head of the country’s elections body GECOM on Thursday spoke publicly for the first time on the 2020 elections that gripped the nation and the world, saying she panicked and feared for her life at the height of the crisis; she turned off her phone, and had sought the help of a government minister as leading figures in the then APNU+AFC government colluded with senior officials to rig the elections.

Justice (retired) Claudette Singh testified before the ongoing Commission of Inquiry that three days after the March 2 polls, she was confused.

Singh told the Commission she could not be bothered and refused to respond to phone calls and messages even as an illegal declaration was being foisted by District Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo and GECOM officials and political leaders demanded her intervention.

Instead, a “highly stressed” Justice Singh locked herself in a room at the Ashmins Building which housed the District Four Command Center at the time, while her personal security detail and her driver stood unsolicited for help close by.

Justice Singh said she called former Minister of Social Cohesion and General Secretary of the APNU+AFC Coalition Amna Ally because “she was a friend.”

“I knew her, she was a Minister, and she would give me some support.”

In contradiction to former testimonies given by other political figures, the GECOM Chair said she was not being held hostage by former Deputy Chief Elections Officer (DCEO) Roxanne Myers.

She insisted that her retreat to the room alone was because was scared for her safety and needed some alone time.

“I thought people were coming to harm me. People were calling me. I was receiving a lot of calls. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t feel up to it to talk(ing) to anyone. I did not know who to trust. So I wanted to be by myself.

“I couldn’t be bothered because at that time I was upset with the events of the day,” Singh said.

But while locked away in the room, refusing to answer calls and respond to messages, Justice Singh recalled hearing loud noises outside, people shouting “we want the chair” and said there were attempts to break into the room.

It was at this moment that she panicked.

But the Commissioners did not believe that Singh’s emotional state, characterized by confusion about the unfolding events and her duty as head of the election body, was enough to allow her to lock herself away in a room and refuse calls and messages.

To that assertion, the retired Judge insisted that she needed the time alone and said while she remained trusting of the six GECOM Commissioners and other senior GECOM staff close to her, none of them tried contacting her.

But other lapses in her judgment and intervention did not go unnoticed by the Commissioners who also pressed her on the lack of leadership when Mingo, in deviation from the procedure, attempted to use a spreadsheet to tabulate the votes instead of the Statements of Polls.

She also did not intervene when he made his illegal declaration while fully aware that the vote tabulation and verification process was not completed.

Singh relied heavily on the advice of GECOM Commissioners, some telling her that she could not interfere and others that the issues were resolved when in fact they were not.

Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, Justice (retired) Claudette Singh takes the stand on Day 14 of the Commission of Inquiry into the March 2, 2020, General and Regional Election.

“It seemed unusual. My understanding was that the tabulation was incomplete… I didn’t speak to Mingo at that stage. In the meeting [GECOM Commissioner Charles] Corbin told me that I cannot interfere with the RO… once Mingo made the declaration it was sure there was a remedy for it,” Justice Singh noted.

At no time did she seek to convene a meeting of the Commission to get support in charting the way forward even as she noted he continued confidence in them at all times.

The GECOM Chair clarified that no decision was taken to use a spreadsheet and said she was having a meeting with the GECOM Commissioners when they were informed of Mingo’s declaration.

She claimed she was hamstrung to interfere at the time and believed there were subsequent remedies available.

“It was my personal moment when I went up there. This is personal when I say I couldn’t be bothered. I wanted that quiet moment. I was afraid for my life.”

The Chair called no police officer, saying she hadn’t a number but a call to Police Inspector Prem Narine was reportedly by mistake and she only told him she was feeling unwell.

The Commissioners were not satisfied by the actions taken by Justice Singh as the Chair of GECOM, to lock herself in a room, refuse calls and refuse to turn to her own security for help but instead turn to a government minister for help.

She was asked directly whether as Chair she believed that she lacked the requisite interest in administrative oversight to which she disagreed.

Singh insisted that she told Mingo and the former Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield when they were doing things wrong but there was no public move to reaffirm clearly the processes to be taken.

1 Comment
  1. Matthew says

    Oh boy…….the chicken coop was being overrun by foxes and the head chicken calls a fox (that she trusted)……there was a reason that Justice Singh was appointed to the job ……but nonetheless she did the correct thing in de long run.

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