GECOM Chairman’s cancellation of meeting with UN team troubling

Dear Editor,

Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson mystified the Commission at the Tuesday, August 7, 2018, statutory meeting of the Commission when he stated that he had cancelled ‘indefinitely’ a meeting scheduled for 5:00 p.m. that day to review with the United Nations (UN) Mission the report and proposal of the United Nations Risk Assessment Team in respect of upcoming Local Government and National Elections in Guyana.

The UN team had visited Guyana and met with various stakeholders to gain information for their needs assessment task and to respond to requests by GECOM to furnish information technology experts.

It would appear that the Chairman had received copies of the UN report and proposal, at least one week before, when the question of a meeting was first discussed, but had only released the report to the Commissioners on the evening of August 6, 2018, creating (deliberately?) issues with adequate time to review and consider the report. That was the view of some Commissioners.

When pressed as to why the meeting was being cancelled, the Chairman alluded to information which he said he had been made aware of, with respect to the engagement and report which he could not divulge.

Commissioner Benn urged that the meeting should be pursued as arranged because of the peremptory nature of the ‘cancellation’ and because there was a need for good faith engagement, with the UN on the issue of elections, because of the findings they were providing and the evident need for assistance even – if the meeting later that day would be treated as only the first one on the report and proposals.

He, also, pointed out that a dangerous precedent was being set by the way in which an issue, which was directly engaging the attention of the Commission, was cancelled without the knowledge or agreement of the Commissioners, nor the fact that there was any effort being made to respond to the requests of the Commissioners for an acceptable explanation from the Chairman for the meeting’s cancellation.

Eventually, the matter was put to a vote with the Chairman, three government nominated Commissioners and one Opposition nominated Commissioner voting to go along with the Chairman’s cancellation.

Grave issues of concern arising out of this matter are:

1.      The delay in providing the Commissioners with the information/document by the UN team;

2.      The highhanded approach of the Chairman in refusing to inform or consult with the Commission on any intended course of action in respect of the holding of the meeting;

3.      The gross breach of procedure by the Chairman taking binding actions and decisions, on his own, and acting without the consideration and determination of the Commissioners as a body;

The Commission is yet to hear definitively on when a meeting with the UN may occur or what reasons the Chairman had to, out of his own violation, cancel the meeting.

Surprisingly, the Chairman indicated that the statutory meeting on Tuesday would go beyond his ‘witching hour’ of 4 p.m. and could last until ‘6 the next day’.

However, at 5:30 p.m, when the agenda item ‘proposed by Commissioner Benn, on ‘Gerrymandering’ was next up for discussion the Chairman abruptly left the meeting without closure saying that he was finished, to the astonishment of all others present.  

This action suggests that the only reason the statutory meeting went beyond 4 p.m. was to perhaps satisfy advising the UN team that the Commission was engaged in its own meeting and could not keep the originally agreed and scheduled 5:00 p.m. meeting with that agency.

Further, there also appears to be continuing delay and deliberate postponement on the presentation, discussion and consideration of the fraught issue of gerrymandering, proposed by Benn, which issue is, also, attracting public criticism.

A pattern has developed where Chairman Patterson appears to be withholding critical information, with the knowledge of the Chief Election Officer (CEO), and undertaking action, without the knowledge or consideration of the Commission thereby allowing for actions to be taken on important matters which are later presented to the Commission as a fait accompli.

The first clear presentation of this problem occurred when the Chairman advised the Commission that he had received, only two days prior, information from the Caricom Secretariat, requesting that CEO Lowenfield lead a Caricom Observer Mission to elections in Grenada and that all preparations were in place for the immediate departure of the CEO.

It was clear from the examination of the documents from Caricom and the actions of the CEO and Chairman, along with requests for the Cabinet Paper that both the Chairman and CEO were deliberately undertaking actions which they had no intention of properly bringing to the Commission’s attention in a timely manner.

It is apt to note that the CEO’s report of his mission to Grenada was presented to Caricom but no reports for the 2015 National Elections or the 2016 Local Government Elections have as yet been  presented to GECOM or the Guyanese nation.

Naturally, the incident referred to, and the seeming pattern established lends further credence to the question of the ‘fit and proper’ status of the current GECOM Chairman and the role of the CEO, Lowenfield, in these matters.

Yours faithfully,

Robeson Benn