The Joint Opposition Political Parties (JOPP) have called for the revocation of the appointment of the Returning Officer for Region Four citing conduct at a previous election and in a letter to the elections commission they expressed dismay that it was business as usual while this matter was being deliberated on.
In letters to Guyana Elections Commission Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally, the PNCR, WPA, GAP and NFA called for the removal of Jaigobind Mohabir. The letters also revealed that there was a deadlock at the level of the Commission over the request for the revocation.
The first letter to Surujbally was sent on September 2 and was signed by PNCR Leader Robert Corbin, Rupert Roopnaraine for the WPA and Anthony Vieira for GAP.
The letter expressed concern about the appointments of all ten RO’s but focused specifically on Mohabir.
“Our concerns have been aroused by the appointment, in particular, of Mr. Jaigobin Mohabir. Mr. Mohabir, you may or may not recall, was cited in the written judgement by Justice Claudette Singh in the Esther Pereira Elections Petition case of 1998, as follows: `The Chief Election Officer then went on to say that the law does not make provision for the rewriting exercise neither does it make any provision for a parallel system. He was aware that one Deputy Returning Officer Jaigobin Mohabir, signed for a Returning Officer.'”
The letter said that Chief Election Officer Gocool Boodoo could not be unaware that at a meeting with party scrutineers in 2000 with then Chairman Joe Singh, Mohabir was one of three officers objected to by the then Chief Scrutineer of the WPA, Desmond Trotman and that the Commission accepted his recommendation that Mohabir and the others not be considered for any further involvement in the electoral process.
According to the letter, Trotman’s concern was that Mohabir was “known to have signed at least five Statements of Poll in the aftermath of the 1997 poll in clear violation of the law. In the 1997 elections he was neither a presiding nor deputy presiding officer. He was supervisor of the East Coast of Demerara.”
JOPP said it was their view that the appointment of a Returning Officer with such a “colourful past cannot but undermine public confidence in the Electoral Process. We are asking that good sense prevail and that the appointment of Mr. Mohabir be revoked.”
The letter also urged that for the avoidance of further doubt, the qualifications, experience and political allegiance (if any) of the other nine Returning Officers and the ten Electoral Officers be open to public scrutiny.
The parties added that they could not be expected to sit quietly and accept what seemed to be a flagrant attempt to foist on the election machinery a person “so clearly unfit for the responsible position to which he has been appointed.”
In a follow-up letter yesterday to Surujbally, JOPP said it was “unacceptable to our parties for the GECOM to be proceeding with business as usual while this issue remains unresolved. We should not need to reiterate to you of all people that public confidence in the electoral process is paramount and that any and every action that runs the risk of undermining that confidence should be avoided at all cost”
JOPP said it has been made to understand that the issue was ventilated at a meeting of the Commission on September 8 and the Commission deadlocked on the issue of the revocation of the appointment of Mohabir.
JOPP repeated the request for public scrutiny of the qualifications of the other nine returning officers and said “We also hope that the appointment of the Deputy Returning Officers now under way will be effected with higher standards of transparency than obtained in the appointment of the Returning Officers.”
While all of the regions are crucial in elections, Region Four is the biggest and there have been varied problems in getting the results out on a timely basis at previous general elections.
In a statement last month, GECOM had said that the ROs are tasked with multiple responsibilities that are all aimed at contributing towards the holding of the elections in a free, fair and transparent manner, the release stated.
Their responsibilities include being responsible to the Chief Election Officer for the proper conduct of the poll within his/her polling Districts; maintaining close liaison and coordination with the Chief Election Officer and the Elections Secretariat; reporting to the Chief Election Officer through the Deputy Chief Election Officer and the Assistant Chief Election Officer; supervising the work of the Deputy Returning Officers, Election Clerks and all other election officials within his/her Polling District.
The ROs will be responsible also for administering the Oath of Office to all staff members before they perform any function under the Representation of the People Act, Cap. 1:03; and assisting the Training Instructors with the training of Polling Day officials.
In addition, the ROs are required to ascertain the total votes cast in favour of each List of Candidates in their respective Polling District.
This is done by adding up the votes recorded in favour of the respective lists in accordance with the relevant Statements of Poll. Immediately thereafter, they are required to publicly declare the votes recorded for each List of Candidates, the release stated.
JOPP’s letter of September 2 was copied to the Electoral Assistance Bureau, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma and Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Rocque