It has been 124 days since the controversy marred-day of March 4; a mere two days after Guyanese ventured to the polls to cast their ballots for the 2020 General and Regional Elections.
On that day, that the country sat on edge, anticipating a declaration of the results for the election but this did not happen. Instead, a series of dramatic events at the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Media Center at the Ashmin’s Building on High Street, forced the tabulation process to be delayed even further, eventually.
While many narratives emerged as to what really happened inside the Ashmin’s Building that day, Kaieteur Radio recently engaged with Canadian-Guyanese Attorney-at-Law, Selwyn Pieters, who served as a local electoral observer for the Guyana Bar Association for the 2020 elections process, where he gave his account of the proceedings.
In an interview on Kaieteur Radio’s Room 592, Pieters’ explained that he came to Guyana on February 26, and was at the Media Center on March 4 with a front row seat of the events.
Detailing his experience, the attorney stated that the electoral process was a smooth one despite a few minor hiccups along the way but these were quickly resolved by the staff of GECOM who he noted worked tirelessly to ensure that the March 2 polls went off without a hitch.
However, things started to go sour on March 4. As Pieters recalled, he and other observers arrived at the site very early in the morning.
“There was a huge convoy to the GECOM Command Center,” he told the radio show hosts, “the Chief Electoral Officer from Canada, the Carter Center, other people, myself from the Bar Association, we all got there for about 8’clock in the morning, because the tabulation was supposed to start early that morning. We were all just standing around socializing because GECOM isn’t doing anything”
Close to 11’clock in the morning, they received information that Clairmont Mingo, the Region Four Returning Officer initially at the centre of the controversy, had apparently fallen ill in one of the offices on the third floor of the building.
“Shortly after that,” Pieters recounted, “an ambulance came and wheeled him out with a mask on, an oxygen mask. We also heard that his deputy called in sick that same day.”
According to him, the observers began questioning “what next”, raising concerns about who was going to step up to the task, but shortly after, the tabulation resumed.
“Between the count stopping and restarting, the political leaders from the parties came,” said Pieters, “so there was at least two former presidents in the room. Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar were there and there were other high echelon people from the Opposition People’s Progressive Party were there. Mr. Ali who was the Presidential candidate was there as well and the People’s National Congress Reform had their high level people as well, Volda, Basil, James Bond and others. Outside of GECOM now, there was a whole bunch of APNU AFC that mobbed out there. The media was there as well, but what was distasteful with respect to the media was that GECOM set up and I would imagine it would be an expensive media center for the media, but yet on that day, they ban the media from entering the premises, the media had to stand outside, so the media was not privy to most of what was happening inside, except if someone told what was happening inside”
Reports from that time had stated that another GECOM official began the count at 1pm but instead of using the Statements of Poll (SOPs) as required by the law, an unverified spreadsheet system was introduced to continue tabulations but that process was stopped after it was discovered that the numbers on the spreadsheet and the ones on the approved SOPs did not match.
Party Candidates and officials from the various Observer Missions called an emergency meeting with GECOM and this resulted in the spreadsheet method being scrapped.
Keith Lowenfield, had explained to media operatives stationed outside of the Media Centre that Mingo’s clerk, Carlyn Duncan was told to resume the halted tabulations. He said, “The process of verification commenced in earnest at around 2:00pm and during the process, some errors were found.”
“We would have completed some eight statements and there were some errors contained in six of them. The representatives from the parties and the observers spoke with me and we stopped the process.” According to Lowenfield, the tabulation process would be reverted to its initial method; using just the SOP’s.”
The tabulation process resumed at 6:00 pm, according to Pieters but this was halted again after two Deputy Returning Officers complained of feeling unwell.
“So around 6’clock,” he stated “the GECOM Chairman Justice Ret’d Claudette Singh had to intervene, because one of the females, well two of them, said they weren’t feeling well, and she came into the room and she pleaded for compassion, and there was nothing anyone could have done at that point. The count had stopped but the count started back briefly. They told us they were gonna start around 10 pm because they were gonna find two substitute Returning Officers, so we are all there and around 11’clock, there were two DRO’s sitting in a room.”
Shortly after, the CEO Keith Lowenfield emerged, Pieters told Kaieteur Radio, and had a brief private discussion with the two DRO’s which raised suspicions from those around. At that point, observers started recording what transpired in order to have solid evidence if anything went array.
In what is a new detail related to events of that evening, Pieters recounted what happened next: “I made videos, because objective evidence is important in these cases, especially when there is propaganda and misinformation prevailing. Mr. Lowenfield shows up. When he showed up, we don’t know what discussions he had with the two DRO’s in the room, but one of them sneaks through the back, the back that leads to the garage, where the GECOM vehicles, are parked and left.”
The Attorney stated that the Opposition at that point contacted their own Returning Officers after the Commission had some difficulty finding replacements but this did not sit well with the CEO who got into a heated discussion with Former Attorney General and PPP Top Brass, Anil Nandlall.
“When Lowenfield said well, we don’t have two DRO’s,” Peters related, “there became a debate with Mr. Ali and Mr. Nandlall and Mr. Lowenfield and Mr. Mustapha. And other observers were there and what was interesting was, you saw that, if you look at the videos, you’ll see about 30 or 40 cameras recording. Mr. Lowenfield basically claimed that he could not trust the DRO’s that were there that the PPP brought, and these were his employees. Some negotiation took place and he used one of the DRO’s that was there. So the recount started shortly after 1AM on March 5. When the recount restarted, the same shenanigans took place where there was a complaint that people were tired.”
Things escalated further, Pieters relayed, resulting in the police being summoned to the Center. This was after the data entry clerk complained of being unwell and headed for a room in the upper level of the Command Center with the laptop being used to tabulate the results along with a flash drive containing verification data.
Said Pieters, “One of the persons, left came back and took the computer and a flash drive, and there were some suspicions raised.”
In another new detail not previously reported, Pieters said the level of suspicion raised further after, according to him, the two DRO’s who begged to leave the Center at 6pm, were still in fact inside the building: “People went over into the room where the guy went and much to their surprise they found the two females that complained that they were tired at 6pm and had to leave because they couldn’t function anymore, they were still there at the command center. And the guy was there that took the laptop that claimed he couldn’t function anymore, was there working in the room with others with the flash drive.”
The police were summoned to the scene and Data Entry Clerk was questioned on his actions. No arrests were made but he was escorted from the Center. That incident resulted in a complete halt of the tabulation process that had started on March 4.
With the counting ended for the day, the observers retreated to their homes, left to process the events that occurred which, according to Pieters, he would never forget.
On closing, he pointed out that the conduct of Keith Lowenfield and Clairmont Mingo on March 4 was less than remarkable, and the fact that Guyana stands more than four months after the March 2 without a proper Head of State and a declaration of the elections does not bode well for the future of GECOM.