‘No political agenda’ – Observers’ reports, actions of cops should be considered by elections COI – Senior Counsel tells Chairman


By Sharda Bacchus


As the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the March 2020 elections concluded on Friday, Senior Counsel Sophia Chote urged the Commission to review evidence such as the reports of the election observers and the actions displayed by some members of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) during the electoral process.

In her summation to the Commission, the Senior Counsel also reminded the Chairman that the CoI has no “political agenda.”

“For those who think mistakenly and misguidingly that this Commission has a political agenda or that the work of the Commission has been infused by a political agenda, please put that out of your minds,” Chote pointed out during her concluding presentation.

Public hearings into the CoI, which is being chaired by Justice (ret’d), Stanley John, commenced in early November with several short breaks in between.

A series of witnesses, including officials from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), local observers, members of both the present and past government and ranks from the GPF testified, either voluntarily or after being summoned.

“These people [witnesses] were adversaries in the 2020 elections but yet when they come to give you their evidence, there is a remarkable coincidence in the account of what they have presented to you,” Chote told the Commission.

“….Not only did they come and give live evidence but they had contemporaneous records…independently recorded which they presented,” she added.

According to Chote, the CoI should be a “good reminder” to GECOM about the provisions made under the Constitution of Guyana.

“It should give a good direction or interpretation to say to GECOM this is the power you have,” she said.

“…It’s all about…transparency and accountability….This Commission of Inquiry, I respectfully submit, has a tremendously important role. Not only in its finding of facts, not only in its interpretation of law but also in its recommendations,” Chote added.

In her concluding contribution, Chote recommended that the Commission should consider certain aspects of the evidence presented in preparing their final report. These include the observers’ reports, the actions of some members of the Guyana Police Force displayed during the electoral process and testimony from specific witnesses.

“…We have secondary evidence which may assist you…Documents such as the reports of the observer missions who were here…Significantly, we have report from the Carter Center, the OAS and the CARICOM,” Chote related.

“…I also think and recommend the Commissioners that when you come to write your report, I respectfully say that you have no choice but to determine what standard of proof you are going to use,” she told the CoI.

Out of all testimonies, Chote pointed out that the evidence given by GECOM Assistant Registration Officer, Alexandra Sophia Bowman and Rosalinda Rasul, who served as elections observer for the American Chamber of Commerce Guyana (AmCham), should be examined.

“Vishnu Persaud of GECOM, Aneal Giddings from GECOM, the material they provided about the electoral process, not only in terms of registration but what happens at polling stations, what is a statement of poll…who has access to it…I think that is absolutely important,” the Trinidadian Senior Counsel highlighted.

Likewise, she said the Commission should review the conduct of District Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo and other individuals, who perverted the rule of law.

“…The actions of those who wanted to pervert the rule of law, turned GECOM into a dark place and that could have led to very serious consequences for this country,” Chote said.

Similarly, Chote also spoke about the actions of some Police Officers during the five-month electoral impasse.

“…The conduct of some members of the GPF must be looked at, must be addressed in your report,” she said.

According to Chote, former Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield also took “serious” actions which include efforts to delay the recount process and his refusal to present a report of the votes cast to the GECOM Chair.

And, although, a number of persons with legal authority were present, Chote said nothing was done to prevent the attempts made to derail the entire process.

“…We had so many people involved in this process, who had legal authority which they could have used to put things right. To have set this train back on its tracks and failed to do so,” she told the Commission.

Additionally, Chote said that there was “very little cohesion” between the GECOM Chairman, Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh and the GECOM Commissioners.

“…The Secretariat of GECOM didn’t see themselves as being responsible to the Commissioners. They saw the Commissioners as being responsible to them,” she noted.

In summarising evidence, the CoI was shown a presentation of the events which occurred after the March 2, 2020 elections, including videos, pictures and voice recordings.

In his closing remarks, the CoI Chairman said the Commission will work towards preparing the report in “scrupulous care and fairness”.

“Our next task is to set about preparing our report and that we will do in scrupulous care and fairness, keeping uppermost in our mind the principles of national justice and the rule of law,” Justice (ret’d) John said.

A final report, he said will be presented to President Irfaan Ali at the “shortest of time.”

The other commissioners on the CoI include 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.

In addition to investigating the events of the five-month protracted elections, the CoI will also examine the weaknesses in Guyana’s electoral systems and produce recommendations to fix the system.

The CoI was ordered by President Ali following attempts, allegedly by now former GECOM officials and the APNU+AFC coalition to rig the outcome of the March 2, 2020, general and regional elections.

Their alleged attempts to rig the elections led to a five-month legal battle that ended at Guyana’s final appellate court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

While the coalition refused to participate in the process, several of its members were subpoenaed to testify but they invoked their right to remain silent.

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