Apr 21, 2020 News
By Kemol King
The CARICOM high level team will not be quarantined when they arrive in Guyana. They will be tested in the countries they are coming from, and be allowed entry to Guyana, once found negative. This decision was made after President David Granger responded to a public outcry, and decided to overturn the decision of the Chairman of the National COVID-19 Task Force, Moses Nagamootoo.
The Chair of Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), (ret’d) Justice Claudette Singh SC confirmed yesterday that the high level team will be physically present in Guyana to witness the recount. She was, at the time, leaving a field visit at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre with the technical experts from the National COVID-19 Task Force who examined the property.
The Chair explained that the experts were there to ensure the safety of the persons who will be present at the venue for the recount, by informing GECOM of safe social distancing requirements. The officials are expected to provide GECOM with a written report.
Commissioner Sase Gunraj said that the technical experts approved 10 workstations for the recount and that GECOM will work with 10. Singh said that she had said ‘no more than 10’ because she had to take the safety of the CARICOM team into consideration, and that she could not guarantee their safety in 20 workstations.
“We need to ensure and guarantee the safety of the CARICOM team. As soon as that is finished, we have to communicate what we have done to ensure the safety to the Secretary-General. The people are virtually afraid of contracting the virus. So that is why we are leaving no stones unturned to ensure their safety.”
But Gunraj does not believe that GECOM should have had to depend on the Government for approval of the recount procedures, as it is an independent Commission. He said that, like the Supreme Court, it has to power to craft and direct its own procures, even with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So we had no duty or obligation to seek guidance or clarity or permission from the COVID-19 task force,” Gunraj said.
It has always been his position that GECOM need only inform the Task Force of its decisions.
He said that the involvement of the Task Force is a “naked attempt at political interference [where] the very persons who seem disinclined to having this [recount] proceed, are the very persons who are tasked with the responsibility of crafting policy under which this process must go on.”
He believes that while the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious issue, it is being overutilised to fetter the recount process.
“It was seven weeks since we voted, and we are unable or perhaps unwilling to deliver credible results to the people of this nation, and that is unacceptable,” he said.
Singh told reporters yesterday said that she cannot yet come up with a start date, because that depends on whenever the CARICOM team arrives.
Commissioner Vincent Alexander said that an order should be drafted overnight, for the commentary of the Commissioners, which will have an indication that it will start when the CARICOM team arrives.
On the working hours, Alexander said he was informed by Singh that through further interaction with the COVID-19 task force, GECOM was able to secure permission to have the recount be conducted from 8am to 6pm.
Singh said she could not have decided on the working hours before, because she had to consult with the task force with the idea of working beyond curfew. She also said that she would not be able to inform the public of a timeline for the recount at this time, but said that it could start in a matter of days.
Speaking to criticisms of her, Singh said that she is doing everything possible – “I am the person who spoke about the recount. I made that commitment and I’m going to see it through, and shortly too. I’m like them. I want to see it over.”
Commissioners were asked about the time taken to examine one ballot box, and Alexander said that a suggestion was for the first day to be utilised as a trial run, to have a more accurate idea of how long it will take.
Asked about the presence of the returning officers for the count, Alexander said that there is no designation called the returning officer that will be used in the recount exercise, but that persons who served as returning officers may be activated to work in the recount. He would not say whether the controversial district four returning officer, Clairmont Mingo, would be utilised.
A matter still on the tale for the decision of the Chairman is the live streaming of the recount to the public. Gunraj said that that proposal predated the proposal to stream the recount for the CARICOM team.
In advocacy for that, Gunraj said that the electoral process does not belong to GECOM or any small number of persons alone.
“It is not dogs and cats who are voting in these elections. They are people like you and I,” Gunraj said.
“As a consequence, the people, the electorate own this process.”
He said that maximum transparency would only redound to the benefit of the credibility of the process, as that credibility is currently in the doldrums.
“It’s important to ensure people see what is happening, so that the suspicion and distrust that pervades the system can be minimized.”
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