Of all the prodigious work put out by English man of letters, W.S. Gilbert – half of the famed comic opera duo, Gilbert and Sullivan – there is a small poem, a sort of parody on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, called ‘The Yarn of the Nancy Bell’. The poem begins with the narrator encountering a bedraggled old man sitting at the side of road, who we learn quickly was once a sailor:
“His hair was weedy, his beard was long,
And weedy and long was he,
And I heard this wight on the shore recite,
In a singular minor key:
“Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain’s gig.”
The poem goes on to solve the riddle of the old mariner’s rhyme – the ship as well as the crew which he was part was stranded and so the crew turned to cannibalism until only the mad old sailor was left. The insane gentleman, having consumed his shipmates, in a sense now believes that he has become all of them, and explains how so when spinning his yarn to passers-by.
The “yarn” in this sense means a story, a tale so absurd in its fundamental premise as to be not believable by reasonable people. In the past four months, we in Guyana have had our fair share of yarns coming out of the stranding of our electoral process. We have heard tales of dead people voting in their thousands, and migrant voters in equal numbers, none of which has been accompanied by a shred of credible evidence and dozens of cases of which have been completely disproven. We have heard of international conspiracies and Russian spies who were mysteriously let go while supposedly being a threat to national security. There have however been no yarns more consequential, or more absurd, than the ones being spun by Chief Elections Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Keith Lowenfield.
The CEO’s statutory duties are very simple. He is to oversee the general running of the Secretariat, and during elections ensure that his junior officers adhere to the law and their mandate in accurately reflecting the will of the people. He has a specific role in the administrative hierarchy of the Commission and is subject to the direction of the Commission proper, meaning the six Commissioners and the Chair.
As has been carried in this paper extensively, what Lowenfield has done instead is spin his own fictions in the place of a proper and accurate report. The first such fiction was a collaborative effort between himself and Region Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo, when he sought to submit an original report based on Mingo’s corrupt figures way in back in March. As CEO, not only did Lowenfield have the power to question Mingo’s inflations on behalf of the APNU+AFC administration, he had a prima facie cause to, considering that Mingo’s figures would have deviated consistently and substantially from the Statements Of Poll (SOPs) in his possession. His original attempt at this was not once but twice, first on March 7 and then roughly a week later, just before the recount started.
The second yarn Lowenfield attempted was in his original post recount report wherein he rightfully included the recount figures, but also bizarrely included an alternate set of figures that showed the Coalition winning by arbitrarily knocking off over 275,000 votes. He claimed that over 55 percent of the votes cast as certified by the recount could not be validated, when they were in fact, validated and certified during the recount itself by the machinery under his command.
The third yarn spun by Lowenfield was after the Court of Appeal decision in the Eslyn David case, when he ‘corrected’ his gross original recount report error by only discarding 115,000 votes from the recount, of course, once again, handing the Coalition a victory.
The fourth and final yarn by Keith Lowenfield sees him returning to figures that are in tune with the two original declarations by Clairmont Mingo, but not quite, since there is a disparity between the latest report and the March report, across the 10 regional declarations.
It is critical to note two things. The first is that in every post-March figure presented by the GECOM CEO – with the exception of the certified, validated recount figures – Lowenfield has in effect given powers to himself that he does not have, whether statutorily or constitutionally. Unless he has, like the lone survivor of Gilbert’s the Nancy Bell, consumed all his shipmates on the stranded, leaky vessel that GECOM has proven itself to be, and assumed all their roles, those reports are illegitimate nonsense. For him to present any of those figures, he would have given himself the combined individual and categorical powers of polling clerk, party agent, observer, district officer, regional returning officer, GECOM commissioner and GECOM Chair. It is therefore not, as the Chief Justice, alluded to, that he has acted like the Lone Ranger; he has, in oxymoronic effect, acted like an entire army of Lone Rangers. It should be made clear that, in the exercise of his duties at this stage, or any other stage, Keith Lowenfield is not given the authority under any circumstance, to change any number of votes, whether 275,000 or 200 or one.
The second thing to note of course, is that not only does each of his yarns result in the Coalition winning an election it has clearly and convincingly lost, it is that the Coalition itself has supported every single configuration of Lowenfield’s fraudulent report – it is almost as if the administration had ghost-written the CEO’s fictions. It is no surprise therefore that during his appearance to answer private criminal charges on Friday, APNU+AFC supporters appeared in numbers referring to him as their “Mandela”.
We could have been spared all of Keith Lowenfield’s absurd yarns months ago. One early critical error made by GECOM Chairwoman Claudette Singh is not demanding that the CEO produce the SOPs in his care. The mere fact that it is a requirement by law that polling stations display their individual SOPs in a manner that the public can see them is an indication that they are meant to be public documents. In his position of Chief-Elections-Officer, Lowenfield – contrary to how he has acted – is therefore not a proprietor of this public information, merely a steward of it. That the CEO has been allowed to keep these public documents entrusted to him in hiding is one of the most macabre incidents of this bizarre circus that we have been both entertained and horrified by in an otherwise horrific enough year.
Moving forward, the Commission needs to terminate the services of Mr. Lowenfield for gross and repeated dereliction of duty, and demand that he hand over the SOPs in his possession. Those SOPs should then be made public in order to begin unraveling the sordid yarns that he and his cheerleaders, if not collaborators, in the David Granger Coalition, have spun with impunity, and without shame, before us over the past four and a half months.
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