The Joint Opposition Political Parties have urged the Guyana Elections Commis-sion (Gecom) to revoke the appointment of the Returning Officer for Region 4, citing his conduct at a previous election.
In letters to Gecom Chair-man Dr Steve Surujbally, the PNCR, WPA, GAP and NFA signalled their concern at the appointment of Jaigobin Mohabir, saying that his “colourful past” would undermine public confidence in the electoral process.
Stabroek News was told that Gecom has held discussions on Mohabir’s appointment and the six government and opposition-nominated members are split on how to proceed, with the latter urging his removal. Surujbally is said to be reviewing evidence against Mohabir cited by the opposition parties as well as other relevant information to guide his decision on the issue.
The opposition parties themselves could likely face questions over the timing of their decision to question Mohabir’s appointment. Although their concerns are related to his conduct at the 1997 polls, he has worked with Gecom since, including at the last general elections in 2006 and during the national house-to-house registration exercise, without objection from the opposition. Further, Mohabir, this newspaper was told, has the support of Gecom’s technical staff, which believes that his knowledge and previous experience make him the best person for the job.
“While we have done and will continue to do all that is required of us to ensure a fair election untainted by irregularities, we cannot be expected to sit quietly and accept what seems a flagrant attempt to foist on the election machinery a person so clearly unfit for the responsible position to which he has been appointed,” the parties said in their first letter to Surujbally, dated September 2, 2011 and signed by PNCR Leader Robert Corbin, WPA co-leader Dr Rupert Roopnaraine for GAP representative Anthony Vieira. The initial letter, copied to the Electoral Assistance Bureau, Common-wealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma and Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Rocque, and a follow up, dated September 20, 2011, were both released yesterday by the parties.
Although the parties expressed concern about the appointments of all 10 Returning Officers and Electoral Officers, they said Mohabir in particular aroused concern. “…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 September 2 letter stated.
It added 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 Gecom 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 Demerara.”
The parties 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 10 Electoral Officers be open to public scrutiny.
In a follow-up letter, sent to Surujbally on Tuesday, the parties 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.”
The parties repeated the request for public scrutiny of the qualifications of the other nine returning officers. “We also hope that the appointment of the Deputy Returning Officers now underway will be effected with higher standards of transparency than obtained in the appointment of the Returning Officers,” they added in the letter.
While all of the regions are crucial in elections, Region 4 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 noted that the Return-ing Officers are tasked with multiple responsibilities that are all aimed at contributing towards the holding of the elections in a free, fair and transparent manner. 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 Returning Officers will be responsible also for administering the Oath of Office to all staff members before they perform any function and assisting the Training Instructors with the training of Polling Day officials. In addition, they 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. Imme-diately thereafter, they are required to publicly declare the votes recorded for each List of Candidates.