PPP/C commissioners accuse Gecom of avoiding court’s scrutiny

- after losing vote on withdrawing challenge to elections petition

After losing a bid to get Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield to withdraw his application for the elections petition to be struck out in the High Court, the PPP/C-nominated Commissioners of the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) yesterday accused the elections management body of seeking to dodge public scrutiny.

Commissioner Robeson Benn, speaking at a press conference at Freedom House yesterday, said the conclusion was arrived at after a vote was taken on a motion moved by him and seconded by fellow PPP/C-nominated commissioner Bibi Shadick to get Lowenfield to withdraw the summons filed to strike out the petition.

The motion, which was tabled at Gecom’s Statutory Meeting on November 24, charges that the commission “took a decision that the Chief Election Officer should defend the petition,” which was filed by the PPP/C’s Ganga Persaud, but that he “launched an attack on the petition by filing proceedings to strike it out.” As a result, it accused him of acting outside the decision of the Commission and charged that by seeking to strike out the petition the Commission had adopted a “partisan posture” contrary to its constitutional mandate. It further contended that “this partisan posture has done and will continue to do immeasurable damage to the image and public perception of Gecom as an impartial body….”

Benn explained to the media that after an initial vote led to “equal division,” the motion was “negativised” at the subsequent meeting on December 1 by the casting vote of Gecom Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally.

“This action by Gecom, in our view, serves to confirm that Gecom is unwilling to open up itself to public scrutiny by way of a court process and is, therefore, unable, as it continues to operate, to deliver free, fair, transparent elections to the people of Guyana, as it mandated by law,” he said.

“The action of voting against the motion… appears to go in consort with those efforts which put [the results] of the May, 2015 elections, in grave doubt and lends credence to major stakeholders’ claims of rigging and fraud at those polls,” Benn claimed, while adding that the development does not augur well for the conduct of Gecom and the fairness of the upcoming March 18, 2016 local government elections.

Asked if the summons filed by Lowenfield could not be considered defending the petition as advised by his lawyer, Shadick said if or when his lawyer advised him that part of defending is to apply to strike out, the proper thing for Lowenfield to do was to seek permission from the commission to tell his lawyer to go ahead.

“Mr Lowenfield is not a lawyer. Mr Lowenfield is a public servant. The proper thing to do is to return to the commission. This is the problem at Gecom; things go on there, Lowenfield makes a decision and they go and spend millions of dollars. The commissioner, which meets every week, must be involved,” Shadick said.

Stabroek News made attempts to contact Surujbally for comment yesterday but was unsuccessful.

The PPP/C’s position since the May 11 general elections has been that it was robbed of votes through a carefully planned rigging process on the part of the APNU+AFC coalition.

In the petition, Persaud called on the court to declare the entire elections process flawed as it contained many procedural errors and so many instances of fraudulent and/or suspicious actions that “the results that have been derived from the process cannot be credibly deemed to represent accurately the will of the electorate.” He also asked the court to order a recount of all ballots cast in the elections.

Lowenfield subsequently asked the High Court to strike out the petition, while contending that it is “materially defective” because it fails to establish any grounds to vitiate the polls.

In an affidavit in support of summons filed by his attorney Roysdale Forde, Lowenfield asked that the petition, dated June 24, be struck out and argued that the substantive submissions disclose no reasonable cause of action, and are frivolous and vexatious.

In his affidavit, Lowenfield said he believed that the statements in Persaud’s petition were “insufficient” to establish a cause of action and that the “absence of material facts” results in no foundation being laid for grounds to vitiate the elections.

Yesterday, Benn claimed that the pursuit of the application to strike out the petition is already incurring a cost of nearly $7 million to Gecom and the taxpayers, “with no end in sight, along with the attendant delay to any resolution of the petition.”

“Mr Surujbally has said publicly that ‘Gecom didn’t do anything wrong; has nothing to hide; there is nothing that was wrong. The elections were not fraudulent, they were free and fair and transparent.’ Why then would a set of commissioners sit there and say look let we don’t prove that we talking the truth; let we lock down this thing and strike out the whole thing, especially since the fee to strike out the petition was $6,960,000?” Shadick asked.

According to Benn, the refusal by Gecom to provide any report on the conduct and results of the elections is of great concern and undermines the commission’s ability to make recommendations and changes which will positively impact on the conduct of future elections.

Both commissioners maintained that they were presenting concerns as Commissioners of Gecom and not as means to further their party’s interest in this case.

“My oath was to serve, without fear or favour, affection, or ill will, and I take those words very seriously,” Shadick said as she stressed that they “are there to serve in the interest of Guyana” though that does not mean that when they see Gecom making decisions that will negatively affect the 200,000 voters that voted for the PPP that they will not seek to represent them.

Benn maintained that Gecom is a bipartisan commission, which with the guidance of the Chairman arrives at decisions which are in the best interest of all Guyana. “This is about the public’s interest and the public’s interest, I believe, is to have free, fair and public scrutiny of what occurred at the May 11, 2015 elections, so that we can all be assured and to make sure that we arrived at a situation where future elections can be accepted properly by all the people of Guyana,” he added.