GECOM argues RO’s Substantial compliance in Region four SOPs matter

─ CJ to hand down ruling tomorrow

DPI, Guyana, Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George will tomorrow, March 11, hand down her decision in the matter regarding the compliance of Section 84.01 of the Representation of the People’s Act Chapter 1:03, brought against the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) following the March 2, 2020, General and Regional Elections.

The Chief Justice today listened to arguments put forward by GECOM’s attorney Senior Counsel (SC) Neil Boston and Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes who represented the People’s Progressive Party.

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Senior Counsel Neil Boston.

The PPP last Thursday filed an injunction, preventing the elections body from publicly declaring the results of votes cast in Region Four, since, according to them, section 84.1 of the Act was not adhered to.

The respondents included Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield and Mr. Clairmont Mingo, Returning Officer of district four.

Section 84 of the Representation of the People Act. Section 84 (1) states: “As soon as practicable after the receipt of all the ballot boxes and the envelopes and packets delivered to him in pursuance of Section 83 (10), the Returning Officer shall, in the presence of such of the persons entitled under Section 86 (1), to be present as attend, ascertain the total votes cast in favour of the list in accordance with the Statements of Poll, and thereupon publicly declare the votes recorded for each list of candidates.”

But in arguments today, SC Boston submitted that the law provides for the RO to adopt any methodology he chooses to come up with the final result. That includes sitting with agents and other relevant personnel to go through the Statements of Poll or the use of a spreadsheet.

SC Boston contended; the RO has the final say. He argued that there was substantial compliance in section 84.1 by the RO since he commenced the process of verification at the close of polls on the night of the elections. However, the process was halted because of the intrusion of GECOM’s command centre by members of the PPP.

“The evidence from everybody is that Mr. Mingo, from Monday night, after the SOPs came to the command centre, worked until 3am Tuesday. He came back Tuesday morning at about 9am and he worked again. He worked through the night, he came Wednesday again and he worked. And then there was “bacchanal” in the place,” Boston told the media.

That “bacchanal,” was the invasion of the command centre by members of the People’s Progressive Party, which eventually stopped the process. The Senior Counsel said the Returning Officer could do nothing else but make a declaration, based on the remaining SOPs in his possession.

According to him, substantial compliance does not have to do with the number of ballot boxes or SOP’s to be checked, but with conduct, which he explained was what Mr. Mingo did. According to him, the evidence revealed substantial compliance with section 84.1 since the RO did engage the party agents and other relevant persons.

He said there is no evidence to suggest that the RO did not do the final count before the declaration was made.

In his argument, Senior Counsel Mendes spoke on the period during which the RO was away from the command centre due to his feeling unwell and the inputting of data by GECOM’s senior Clerk Michelle Miller. He argued that Miller should not have been doing such.

However, SC Boston argued that there is no evidence that the senior clerk had tabulated the votes on her own and therefore, the matter remains in substantial compliance.

The final declaration by GECOM for Region Four last week showed that the APNU+AFC had acquired 136,335 votes while the PPP had acquired 77,258. That final count saw the coalition government moving ahead of the PPP with an overall count of 237,020, while the PPP followed by 229,562.

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