Lowenfield created ‘electoral advantage’ in favour of APNU/AFC – AG tells CoI

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Attorney General & Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC

Taking the stand on Thursday before the ongoing Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the 2020 elections was Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, who recalled the series of events from the passage of the No-Confidence Motion against the APNU/AFC Government in December 2018 leading up to the swearing-in of Dr Irfaan Ali as President in August 2020.

Nandlall reminded that following the passage of the No-Confidence Motion, the President and the Cabinet, as per the Constitution, needed to resign and a date for the holding of elections be fixed within a three-month period thereof, unless an extension was granted by the Parliament.

Nandlall recalled that on the night of the No-Confidence Motion, the then Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo hosted a press conference where he outlined the constitutional consequences of the passage of the motion and committed that his Government would comply.

However, Nandlall informed that the then Government never complied with the stipulation to resign nor did it set a date for elections within the three-month period, nor did the Parliament extend the period.

The AG went on to highlight the various challenges faced in getting a date fixed for elections which included court cases that challenged the legality of the motion as well as the then President’s unilateral appointment of the then Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), James Patterson.

Nandlall told the CoI that finally, on December 31, 2019, after one year of “constant struggle and intense pressure”, the then President David Granger issued a proclamation and fixed March 2, 2020 for the holding of General and Regional Elections.

The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) – the political grouping to which Nandlall belongs – consequently switched full gear into campaigning mode, the AG informed the CoI.

Nandlall, who was assigned responsibility for the East Coast of Demerara from Industry to Cane Grove, recalled, however, that the then Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield made several decisions which could have created an ‘electoral advantage’ in favour of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) when compared to other contesting parties.

One such example, he cited, was the appointment of polling places in PPP/C stronghold areas.

“…PPP stronghold areas being requested to come out of those villages to vote in other villages which are not traditionally considered to be PPP stronghold areas…

“Guyana has an unfortunate and peculiar history of hostilities at election time between the two major political parties and locating PPP voters in that environment caused us great concern,” Nandlall explained.

Another development, he outlined, was the insufficient polling stations in certain areas.

For instance, Nandlall explained that an area that has thousands of voters would have “very few” polling places.

This, he explained, would have resulted in voters lining up for hours, and being exposed to ‘sun and rain’, which could lead to them becoming disenchanted and deciding not to vote.

Another instance, he highlighted, was that the location of some polling places were not in any central parts of the village, and therefore, large numbers of persons would have to travel distances to exercise their franchise, and upon so arriving, would have to wait in long lines before they would vote.

Nandlall pointed out that these and other issues were raised with Lowenfield on numerous occasions before there was a “positive reaction”.

Nevertheless, he contended that such positive changes were being made up to Election Day, which meant that thousands of people, just hours before voting began, did not know where they needed to be to cast their ballots.Unlawful declaration

Turning his attention to the events after March 2, 2020, Nandlall recalled the unlawful declaration made by the then Returning Officer for Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Clairmont Mingo on March 5 at the Ashmins building – even though the tabulation for the region had not been completed. He made specific reference to the fact that Mingo was using a spreadsheet, instead of the Statements of Poll (SoPs) to count the votes.

Nandlall recalled the court proceedings that followed, the judgement delivered, and the subsequent decision of GECOM to move the tabulation process to its Kingston, Georgetown Headquarters.

With the court having ruled that the SoPs must be used during the tabulation process, Nandlall explained that Mingo and his team had set up a projection screen with a bedsheet wherein he projected what was “claimed” to be the SoPs.

But Nandlall pointed out that no official present at the exercise could verify the numbers, because the screen was too far away.

The AG explained that a second declaration was made by Mingo on the evening of March 13 and he noted that fresh legal proceedings were initiated against such the following day.

Nandlall recounted that it was at this point that the then President and the then Leader of the Opposition reached an agreement, brokered by the then Chair of Caricom, Mia Mottley, to have a national recount – which was supported by GECOM.

Notwithstanding, a candidate for the APNU/AFC instituted legal proceedings challenging the legality of the decision to recount, Nandlall reminded, as he recalled other actions that were taken to frustrate the recount process.

These included what he termed as “great sloth” in setting up the venue identified for the recount – the Arthur Chung Conference Centre – as well as the “nightmare” in moving the containers that contained the ballot boxes, and the fumigation of the entire building.

He also made mention of the issue with observers being prevented from returning to the country to observe the recount.

Nandlall noted that during the recount, APNU/AFC made an issue over the fact that some statutory documents were missing from ballot boxes – an issue, he reminded, he had raised with Mingo since the evening of March 2, 2020.

According to Nandlall, he was informed that the presiding officers of a particular location were putting documents that were supposed to be in the ballot boxes, separately in an envelope to be sent off to Mingo.

Nandlall informed that he had contacted Mingo on the situation, and it was surmised that there was a breakdown in communication at the level of the Deputy Returning Officer and the Presiding Officers.

Nandlall said Mingo assured that the documents would eventually be properly stored. In fact, Nandlall said his last information on the matter was that the envelopes with the documents were in the possession of Lowenfield.

He told the CoI that he thought the issue was addressed and that it was not until the recount, when APNU/AFC started to create a fuss about the ‘missing’ documents, that the matter came up again.

At this point, Nandlall said he spoke with the CEO who assured that the documents were stored at a GECOM location. According to Nandlall, therefore, the documents were never “missing”.

Meanwhile, he noted that a report produced by the Caricom team – under whose auspices the recount was done – documented that the exercise was done fairly, transparently, and that the results reflected the ballots cast and that those results generated by recount should become the basis for declaration.

The results, Nandlall informed, showed that the PPP/C won the elections, and moreover, that the figures matched those that were contained in the SoPs that were in the Party’s possession.

Notwithstanding those results, Nandlall told of how the CEO refused to prepare a lawful report for submission to the Elections Commission based on the recount.

According to Nandlall, several court cases were pursued and despite a ruling at the country’s highest court – the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the CEO still prepared a report utilising figures that did not reflect the recount results.

It was not until August 2 – after much battle – that Lowenfield submitted a lawful report which formed the basis for the swearing-in of Ali as President, Nandlall recalled.