Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, had stated on Friday last, that he is not bound by the directives of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chair nor the Commission; however back in 2019, he sang a different tune, stating clearly that it was the Commission who by constitutional “order” instructs him.
In an attempt to justify his decision to present a final election report to the Commission, invalidating 115,844 votes and granting the win to the Coalition, Lowenfield said in a press statement on Friday last that “While the Commission makes certain policy decisions and provides guidance to the Chief Election Officer for implementation by the Secretariat, I have to execute my duties as a Constitutional Officer, particularly in the conduct of Elections.”
However, at a press conference in February 2019 at the GECOM Headquarters, Lowenfield offered a starkly different perspective. In a short video published by online media outfit, News Room, the CEO stated that it was the GECOM Commission who is constitutionally mandated to direct the Secretariat, which he controls.
In his explanation, Lowenfield stated “I think I need to remind sometimes, that this agency, this constitutional agency, established constitutionally, Article 161, speaks very clearly to the establishment of the Commission, the Chairman and to the members of that Commission and their responsibility.”
He added that it is the Commission who is responsible for the efficient conduct of general and regional elections, local government elections and for the conduct of registration in Guyana.
Lowenfield argued that, “The Commission by order instructs the Chief Elections Officer for the conduct of all these subsets; they are contained in the constitution where the Commission shall direct the Secretariat to so do so it is not a creation of an attitude on the part of the CEO that he have to be provided with guidance.”
“So,” he added “they direct – move, don’t move, act, don’t act – as is contained in the Constitution.”
The CEO pointed out that, he, being a “student of management” understands fundamentally what is required by the Secretariat in the execution of their duties.
“So sometimes when,” he stated at the press conference, “one hears that the CEO cannot meet with a team at location X or Y, I have not yet, as constitutionally mandated, been provided with the guidance from the Commission, Chairman and Commissioners, so I think we need to understand that from jump street.”
Lowenfield in his June 2020 press statement maintained that he acted in “conformity” with the constitutional provisions that guide him. He, however, failed to mention which specific provisions in the Constitution grant him the powers to act outside of the directions of the Commission and the Chair. It should be pointed out that the only section of the Constitution that speaks to the duties of the Chief Elections Officer is Article 177 (2) (b).
That provision states that “Where – there are two or more Presidential candidates, if more votes are cast in favour of the list in which a person is designated as Presidential candidate than in favour of any other list, that Presidential candidate shall be deemed to be elected as President and shall be so declared by the Chairman of the Elections Commission acting only in accordance with the advice of the Chief Election Officer, after such advice has been tendered to the Elections Commission at a duly summoned meeting.”
Lowenfield was initially instructed to submit a report based on the CARICOM-supervised election recount. That report places the PPP/C in the lead by some 15,000 votes. What he did submit was a report which placed the incumbent A Partnership for National Unity +Alliance For Change (APNU+ AFC) government in a considerable lead ahead of the Opposition, People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C).
His actions were supported by the Coalition who, shortly after his press statement, sent out a statement stating that the “CEO is clearly empowered and instructed by the Constitution and Laws of Guyana, not by any other entity or person and that he has discharged his functions within the ambit of the law.” De facto President, David Granger, in an interview earlier this week, further defended Lowenfield’s position and actions.
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