I am a local election observer accredited by GECOM. On election day I visited 59 polling stations morning and afternoon and observed the voting process in more than 40 of them. I found order and peace in all except in Sophia Primary School, where there were people not voting hanging out outside the gates, especially around the food vendors. They were tolerated by the Police. There were even persons in the compound, who when I asked who they were, replied they were “helpers”. When I asked to what organization they belonged they said “no organisation”.
So after close of Poll at 6 pm, I decided I would spend much of the evening at that polling place. At 6 pm all the polling stations in the compound took a dinner break for food catered for the staff by GECOM and the Police respectively. No GECOM staffer was not provided for and none were too tired to work. Counting began after 6.30 pm.
During the dinner break, persons wanted to be let into the compound as counting agents, but the security guard objected, until the deputy returning officer (DRO) stationed there looked out from her window, far from the gate, and said it was okay. I went to the gate to find out more. It turned out that someone, who identified himself to me as an APNU/AFC candidate, was sharing out letters to persons to enter the compound as counting agents. I asked to see the letters. They were applications addressed to the Chief Election Officer signed by Volda Lawrence for the named persons to be counting agents. I pointed out that the letters were only applications, not authorisations, and he acknowledged that fact, but the APNU/AFC “counting agents” were still allowed to enter. Some of them were from the group of people who I met in the compound earlier in the day and who had said they belonged to no organization.
A little later, while the APNU/AFC candidate for that area ̶ not the one giving out letters at the gate ̶ and I were sitting together in a strategic position to observe the polling stations in the compound, an assistant superintendent of Police came by and announced he had prevented the PPP/C candidate from entering the compound because he was causing a disturbance at the gate. The APNU/AFC candidate next to me said that he should have allowed him to get in. I got up and made my way to the gate where there were lots of people outside, but the PPP/C candidate had already left. The security guard said the PPP/C candidate was causing a disturbance and so was not allowed to enter, but in my opinion it was the people standing around outside the gate who caused the disturbance, and whose opinion carried more weight with the security guard and the police than the one authorized person’s. The people outside the gate moved away when they saw I was an observer.
It is therefore interesting that Region 4 returning officer (RO) Clairmont Mingo says “no counting agents were properly appointed”. That may be so, but I observed that this lack of appointment was being selectively applied and did not hinder the APNU/AFC “counting agents” on my beat. Disturbances were only created when the tried and tested procedures were discarded. Blaming the disturbances on the complainers cannot be right. Blame must accrue to those who ignored the law and agreed procedures and courtesies.
It was my further experience when I visited the Region 4 GECOM headquarters at High and Hadfield Streets after last Friday that I was unable to get past the police even though I showed my observer badge. This means that the ballot boxes were in possession of GECOM officials like the Region 4 RO, who had the keys to all the Region 4 ballot boxes, which were stored out of sight of election observers, under guard by a police force that saw nothing wrong with being partisan and taking instructions from the APNU/AFC party.
Therefore, in view of the long unaccountable time that was available for mischief I call for a demonstration of just how tamperproof the ballot boxes are. Because of GECOM’s own demonstrated lack of transparency its voter education mandate must be extended to convince the public that the integrity of their system was independent of their personnel.
Local accredited election observer
Transparency Institute Guyana Inc