The People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP’s) objection to attorney Roysdale Forde representing the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), due to him being named as a candidate of the APNU+AFC, appears hypocritical as, for several years, some of its top lawyers, including Senior Counsel, Ashton Chase, and Doodnauth Singh, represented that body without any issue.
In fact, Chase’s longstanding arrangement with GECOM ended only in 2015 when former Chief Elections Officer, Gocool Boodhoo, was not rehired when his contract had expired.
A top official at GECOM told this newspaper that, also in 1997, Doodnauth Singh had represented GECOM in the well-known Esther Pereira Elections Petition case of 1998 brought against GECOM by Georgetown resident and People’s National Congress (PNC) supporter, which saw the 1997 elections being vitiated.
Singh later became chairman of GECOM and then Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs for the PPP government.
For his part, Chase had benefitted from millions of dollars in contracts, having been retained for years as the Commission’s lawyer. Coming out of Tuesday’s statutory meeting and mimicking the sentiments of Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, Opposition-nominated Commissioner, Robeson Benn criticised the involvement of Forde in the case, challenging the High Court’s decision to block the removal of persons from the National Register of Registrant (NRR) Database. Forde is representing the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield. Benn contended that the decision for Forde, as well as Attorney-at-Law, Stanley Marcus, to represent the Commission, was never agreed to by the Commission.
In his efforts to bring attention to his discontent, Benn has written a letter in expression of same to GECOM Chair, Justice (R’td) Claudette Singh, which has been copied to all Commissioners, representatives of foreign missions and international observer experts at the Commission. He told the media, on Tuesday, regarding the representation of the lawyers that – “It was never examined; the information was never brought to us and we never agreed to this position. The matter is closed for the moment but the problem is we have said that since Mr. Roysdale Forde is on the List of Candidates for the APNU+AFC and the fact that Mr. Marcus was not identified to take part in this matter by GECOM….it appears to be a return to partisan actions by the Guyana Elections Commission either directly or perversely.”
The case in question has been brought against Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram, the GECOM and Lowenfield in the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, S.C. However, whether the matter is truly linked to “partisan actions” is under question as in 2015, still under the guidance of Lowenfield, a contract was awarded to Ashton Chase Associates of 217 South Street, Lacytown by the Commission for legal services in representation of GECOM in a Full Court action filed by attorney, Saphier Husain Subedar.
Chase was contracted to provide “consultation, instructions, appearance pleadings representation, urgency consultation, oral and written advice” for the sum of $365,000.
The payment was made subsequent to the approval of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB). “Please be advised that approval has been given for the contract for Legal Representation to be awarded to Ashton Chase for the tendered sum of G$365,000,” an approval letter signed by the NPTAB Chair, Donald De Clou stated on July 14, 2015.
Signatories to the subsequent contract bid included the employer, the contractor and two witnesses on July 17, 2015. This is just one of several contracts dating back to several years from which Chase had benefitted. Contacted about the involvement of Chase at the Commission in the past, Benn stated that he doesn’t see similarities between the two. “Mr. Chase, as far as I’m concerned is not active in PPP issues,” he said. “He might have been talking about historical experiences given his PPP involvement in the past but I don’t think it’s the same thing.” Chase has been hailed by the party as a “comrade” who was there at the very foundation of the Political Affairs Committee (PAC), the forerunner to the PPP.
Chase was also GECOM’s lawyer in the High Court case as it related to the controversial Region 10 seat that the Alliance For Change insisted it had won following the 2007 elections, but which was awarded to the PPP.