After five months of alternatively being pedestalled and pilloried, depending on which side of the political divide found her actions (or lack thereof), retired Justice Claudette Singh must be enjoying her retirement from the public eye for now.
As the public eye shifts this week to the charges brought against GECOM personnel involved in what international consensus has labeled an attempt, thankfully failed, to hijack the March 2 elections, what is now, and will become increasingly clear is that the model that we currently have for the Guyana Elections Commission is clearly not working.
If there is no other lasting legacy of the Granger presidency – and there certainly is none positive that readily comes to mind – the testing of the many fault lines of the Guyana Elections Commission, legally and functionally, is certainly one.
The first assault came with the fiasco of the former President’s ‘fit and proper’ criteria that he invented out of his own personal, pseudo-constitutional concept of his powers under the Carter formula. To the logical, compromise-focused mind, the formula is simple: a list of six persons who are qualified to be Chair of GECOM, and who are otherwise not disqualified to be Chair of GECOM, is submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. The President then picks one of those persons who are qualified (and not disqualified) to become the Chair. What we had instead, as our recent history records, an unnecessary complication that it took hundreds of millions of dollars and a recourse to the Caribbean Court of Justice to correct.
While the other issues with GECOM are legion, the CARICOM Observer Team’s brutal assessment of the Commission as an electoral management body (EMB) is telling. Most notably, it diagnoses – in the chapter of its report called ‘GECOM, A Problem’ – the fundamental problem.
“In essence, legally, the Commission is not subjected to the direction of any government department or the political executive or parliament. However, quite apart from the unusual power granted to GECOM, most noteworthy is the fact that GECOM is like most other regional EMB’s, a creature of political parties. That is to say, that while GECOM is described as an independent body, it is undoubtedly a political Commission, and herein lies most of the problems, the paralysis, and the factionalism experienced by that body. Whereas the nature of the appointment of commissioners of EMB’s in other Caribbean jurisdictions has not given rise to the level of internal discord which is acutely manifested in the public posturing of individual commissioners, this is the norm in Guyana and unfortunately was on full and ugly display in the 2020 elections and its aftermath. This is unsurprising given the tribalised nature of politics in the country and the appointment process of commissioners. Their subsequent behaviour, and their public posturing are functions of the ethnic based politics in the country combined with the zero-sum politics of the intrinsically Westminster arrangements which are deeply embedded in Guyana despite the more significant post-independence alterations to the political model of government.”
Of course, while the CARICOM team is spot on in this sort of macro-analysis of the problem of GECOM, that larger diagnosis should not blind us to the fact that what was decidedly criminal behaviour took place at GECOM at an operational level, one for which the Commission, for all its vaunted powers, had no apparent ability to self-corrected. Indeed, if anything, powers that were ostensibly meant to guarantee operational autonomy were combined with the apparent unfettered ability to shield the public from what should be public records, the Statement of Poll in particular, to provide cover for fraud.
When Clairmont Mingo – who is thankfully facing the courts today for his part in what took place – defied a court order to display manipulated and fraudulent figures on a bedsheet at GECOM, it was because he was allowed to do so without immediate consequence from the Commission. As the situation currently stands, nothing technically prevents ten Mingos from repeating his performance come 2025.
When Keith Lowenfield repeatedly defied the Commission, granting himself “constitutional” powers that he did not have, stretching out an already artificially lengthened process, it was because of the intrinsic flaws in the Commission and its establishing legislation.
As the dust settles over the next year or so, as we limp inevitably to local government elections, after what we hope is time taken to breathe and recuperate, Madame Justice (Retired) Claudette Singh will take the lead in using the tremendous constitutional powers that GECOM has to start the Commission fixing its own flaws, and healing itself, to avoid us being thrown into a similar nightmare as took place over the first half of this year.
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