Former police commissioner James was receiving instructions from APNU+AFC gov’t, GECOM officials – Election CoI hears

The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the events of the March 2, 2020, General and Regional elections commenced Friday with testimony that former Commissioner of Police, Leslie James was receiving instructions from the former APNU+AFC government and officials of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), including former Chief Elections Officer, Roxanne Myers. 

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the events of the March 2, 2020 elections commenced on Friday

Taking the stand with his evidence was Assistant Commissioner of Police, Edgar Thomas.

 “He requested the number of electors on the list, the number of persons who had voted, the amount of person voting, and the number of persons waiting to vote. He also requested that a copy of the Statements of Poll be transmitted to the force headquarters through the Whatsapp group,” Thomas recounted to the three-member commission.  

The second witness Assistant Commissioner of Police and Head of the Presidential Guard, Edgar Thomas

Later on March 5, Thomas said he received a complaint from the GECOM command centre at Ashmin’s, High and Hadfield Streets, that a flash drive was removed from the tabulation centre and that someone who was part of the tabulation process was seen tampering with the data.

Following this revelation, he contacted the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), and returned to the GECOM command centre with three other officers in tow, pointing out that GECOM’s former IT technician, Enrique Livan was not in the tabulation room when they arrived. It was then agreed that the data on the flash drive would be projected for all in attendance to peruse.

It was then observed that the data projected from the screen did not match the data in the possession of everyone else.

Then Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield committed to delivering a hard copy of the correct numbers and followed through with this commitment.

Further, Thomas related that he received a call stating that a bomb was planted in the GECOM command centre. He noted that the police was able to trace the call to a house in Ruimveldt, and an arrest was made.

A request was made by the Senior Superintendent, Phillip Azore, for additional ranks to be present at the command centre, since an important announcement by then Region Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo was to be made.

He instructed Azore to use the resources at his disposal, and upon arrival at the command centre, discovered that the entrances were manned by uniformed police officers.

“From my observation, those police officers were strategically placed at the doors. The instruction was given by Senior Superintendent Azore.

“The instructions were to man the doors, preventing persons at GECOM, mostly political party representatives from entering certain areas [of the building]” he recounted.

Thomas maintained that his instructions were not heeded and that the directions were coming from the Senior Superintendent and the Deputy Commissioner of Police.

Meanwhile, Chief Elections Officer at GECOM, Vishnu Persaud, during his testimony, related that there was no record of any security footage from the GECOM command centre following elections day.

The security footage provided details on exactly what took place in that building after elections day.

“I am not aware that any such footage is available. In fact, I did inquire, and I was informed that the cameras were installed in that building on the instructions of the Chief Elections Officer, which may have been done by a private service provider. Nobody seems to know when the cameras were removed, nor where the footage might be.

The first witness Vishnu Persaud, Chief Elections Officer

 “In terms of records, may I venture that when I assumed office as Chief Elections Officer, where the computers which should have had the information, or could have had information in that regard, [I discovered] that all of the computers were wiped clean,” he told the commission.

Persaud, who has been serving as the Chief Elections Officer since December 2021, outlined the complexities of the elections process, briefly touching on the guidelines of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Manual for Returning Officers and other district staff.

He stated that the elections process commences with the preliminary list of electors, making note of the statutory requirement that the voters’ list is posted at all polling stations before elections day. 

The GECOM CEO also gave a synopsis of various parties involved in the electoral process, the returning officer, deputy returning officer, chief elections officer, presiding officer, and party scrutineer.

The presidential CoI seeks to, among other things, enquire into and report upon the relevant circumstances and events leading up to, and the procedures following, the General and Regional Elections.

It will also investigate what attempts, if any, were made to obstruct, frustrate, subvert, and prevent a decision of the Guyana Elections Commission made on the 14th day of March 2020, to conduct a national recount of the votes polled at the General and Regional Elections from being executed and implemented…including inquiring into

  • The conduct of the Chief Election Officer, other Elections Officers, and others in respect of the discharge and execution of the statutory duties of the Chief Election Officer prescribed by the ROPA Act.
  • The commission is to make such recommendations as the Commission deems fit and necessary to permit the Guyana Elections Commission to discharge its statutory functions as prescribed by ROPA… in a manner which is impartial, fair, and compliant with the Constitution and relevant legislation and to make any other recommendations which the Commission deems appropriate having regard to the law and to any evidence which may be presented.

The commissioners include Chairperson, Attorney General, High Court Judge, and Acting Justice of Appeal in the Eastern Caribbean, Godfrey P. Smith, S.C., Retired Justice of Appeal, Stanley John, and former Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Carl Singh. The Commission of Inquiry was established by President Dr. Irfaan Ali, and is expected to spend approximately seven months investigating the events of the March 2, 2020, General and Regional elections.