Foreign Minister Dr Karen Cummings was today accused of threatening to take away the accreditation of foreign observers amid mounting chaos in the verification of Region Four votes and her words drew a sharp rebuke from the Head of the Commonwealth observer mission, former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur.
Contacted by Stabroek News for a comment, Cummings said that she had received credible information that some members of the observer missions were being more involved in the electoral system than they are allowed. She said as a result she visited GECOM ‘s Region Four office on Hadfield Street and sought a caucus with some who were there and while thanking them for their services she reminded them that this is a tense time in Guyana and they should avoid making prejudicial statements or taking any such actions. She said she indicated that she was the one who accredited them and she did not expect them to be involved in such actions.
Video that circulated on social media of the encounter showed that the observers including Arthur felt that they had been threatened by Cummings. After they raised these concerns, Cummings attempted to soften her comments.
While Stabroek News was unable to hear what Cummings told members of the mission who were present, a later exchange between her and some of the members, including Arthur, made clear that they felt she had issued such a threat.
In the room as well were British High Commissioner Greg Quinn and Canadian High Commissioner Lilian Chatterjee.
According to a video clip posted on the Facebook page of Canadian lawyer Selwyn Pieters, Cummings, sitting at a table while some of the members were sitting and other standing, said “That is all. I passed by to say that good sense would prevail and there is no aggravation of the situation…”
At that point Teni Housty, who is an observer with the Guyana Bar Association, told the Minister that he feels she “should stop.”
“I just pass around and I want to congratulate you for the work you have been doing,” Cummings continued.
Arthur is then heard saying “What I heard was a threat”, as he held up his accreditation in the direction of the Minister and she responded “no I wouldn’t do that.”
“It comes across as intimidation, you are trying to intimidate the observers when you speak about taking away accreditation,” one person, with a foreign accent was heard saying in the background.
“I am just happy that you are here…let’s leave in good spirits, some of you I am seeing for the first time and just keep on doing what you are doing,” Cummings added, as some of the observers walked out of the room.
“The last word you are hearing from me is continue doing a good job,” she said as she turned to walk away.
“Yeah but it doesn’t take away from the fact that you made a threat that you were told to take away our accreditation,” a member of the observer mission was heard saying.
As she attempted to respond, Arthur said “Madame” and made a gesture of handing back his accreditation which he had taken from around his neck and Cummings said “I am saying, I told you that I wasn’t in agreement with doing that, listen to me”.
“I speak on behalf of the Commonwealth, the largest concentration of people in the world and I am not going to have, not me, the Commonwealth, disrespected by a threat to take away the accreditation of the Commonwealth,” Arthur told Cummings, who was attempting to speak.
He stated that he was going to speak to the Commonwealth Secretary General, Patricia Scotland shortly about the manner in which he was spoken to as he has a duty to report to her.
Shortly after that, Cummings left after speaking to someone on her mobile phone while presidential candidates of the PPP/C and LJP Irfaan Ali and Lenox Shuman among other stood at the doorway during the exchange.