RESTRICTIONS AND RECOUNT
OUR Guyanese people deserve a round of applause for almost faithful observance of restrictive measures, as the nation buckles down for the fight against the coronavirus. At the time of writing, 45 persons have tested positive, six of whom have died.
Compared to confirmed cases in some 183 other countries, these statistics for Guyana are on the low side. However, any relaxation of the strict containment measures could see a dramatic, over-night rise in both the infection rate and the number of deaths.
Our first case was imported from Queens in the Big Apple, where already close to 40 Guyanese nationals have died. Among them are two well-known tycoons in the airline industry – Billy Braithwaite and Jim Bacchus.
In all, over 20,000 persons have died in the United States, out of which figure some 8,000 were from New York where a mass grave has been dug in the middle of Hartland Park. There, in make-shift boxes, would be buried the bodies of persons who have neither been identified nor claimed by their relatives. In the United States, the confirmed cases have climbed close to 600,000, of which some 160,000 are from New York.
I am giving the New York situation not to scare Guyanese at home, but to show how rapidly this contagion could spread, if strict measures are not in place to contain the virus. Among these measures are simple hygiene protocols such as keeping our hands clean, wearing masks and keeping a safe distance from other persons.
Unconfirmed estimates could account for over 300,000 persons of Guyanese origin living in the tri-borough New York state. All of us empathise with Guyanese who want to return home, some of whom might be legitimately stranded whilst on vacation or on business.
However, our airspace remains closed to incoming international flights until May 2. Should the restriction be lifted, as is being advocated by some, Guyana could quickly have an inflow of between 2,000 and 5,000 persons. Possibly more. Upon their return all of them have to be screened, placed in quarantine and tested. Some of them might possibly be hospitalized. Such inflow at this time would be enough to overwhelm and literally kill our health care system.
It is with this in view that, while Guyanese are making great efforts at social distancing, and sacrificing the pleasures of fetes and flying kites on Easter today and tomorrow, that concerns are being expressed against the door being thrown wide open to persons returning from overseas locations where the coronavirus disease has been wreaking havoc. So Guyanese overseas have to stay put for a while longer, until the spread of the disease is contained in Guyana.
With the spirit of Easter pervading our society, there is resurrection of hope that we would beat this devil; and that our people at home would not be locked down indefinitely; and that our Guyanese compatriots would not be locked out for much longer.
But the restrictive atmosphere is due not only to the coronavirus. It is compounded by the political gridlock within which Guyana has been confined since the March 2 elections.
While the virus instils fear in us, the political crisis brings uncertainty. We fight the former with health safety precautions. But the latter needs a whole bundle of legal and constitutional remedies.
In an aside comment, President Granger noted that we are caught up by a set of Cs – the Constitution, the Commission and the Courts. All three have been triggered by the problematic situation that flowed from the Count – a fourth C.
The initial count of ballots and the tabulation of same, as declared by Returning Officers in the ten regions of Guyana, disclosed a narrow, one-seat win for the APNU+AFC Coalition, which would be a repeat of the results in 2015. But the Opposition challenged the results, and circulated “results” of its own that showed a contrary outcome.
In elementary law, the Returning Officers, as agents of the Elections Commission, were acting vicariously for their principal, GECOM. Under normal circumstances, President David Granger should have been sworn in, and any queries over the results left for adjudication by the court by way of an elections petition.
That was how it had been after the contentious 1997 elections. Then, after Mrs. Janet Jagan was sworn in as President, a re-count of the ballots took place. Called a forensic audit, that process lasted some 97 days after which the court vitiated the results of the elections as having been obtained by fraud.
In this case, the courts have ruled that a recount of ballots of all ten regions should be done. Initially that was the advocacy of the Opposition which had described a recount as “the Gold Standard” of fairness and transparency.
But in defiance of the ruling of the court which upheld provisions of the Guyana Constitution and the supervisory functions of the Commission, the Opposition and its cronies want a partial recount of only one of the ten regions.
ALL OR NONE
The Opposition was in trouble when the results of Region 4 were tabulated and announced, as those showed a handsome lead for the APNU+AFC. Having failed at totally disrupting the Region 4 tabulation, the Opposition filed action in the High Court aimed at discrediting the Region 4 tabulation, and securing a recount of only Region 4 ballots.
But the court would have none of that. It was either all or none. So the PPP was left with its mouth open. One would have thought that by now they would have learned from the old Guyanese proverb about where “de smart fly does end up”.
The recount process could last for five months during which the country remains politically polarized and ethnically divided. Guyana is marking time in the face of its deadliest enemy – COVID-19. For this, it is my view that the Opposition would never be absolved for having chosen to enter an unholy alliance to remove by foreign interference, manipulation and electoral fraud a democratic, people’s government.