DPP seeks Chancellor’s intervention on electoral fraud cases as magistrates continue to recuse themselves

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards

The intervention of Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, has been sought over the slow pace at which the electoral fraud cases have been progressing through the Judiciary, which Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall has described as a travesty for the country.

It has been over three years since the 2020 General and Regional Elections and electoral fraud charges continue to languish in the Magistrate courts. During his year-end press conference, the Attorney General addressed the issue and lamented the time it was taking to move forward with a trial.

“After three years, those charges have not been able to secure a trial date. Now I am the Minister of Justice. I cannot be pleased with this state of affairs. No decent-minded Guyanese can be pleased with this state of affairs. And I wish to make it abundantly clear that these are not politically driven or inspired charges.”

“These are charges that relate to misconduct of the electoral process by persons who have been appointed and paid by the tax payers of this country, to manage that process and ensure that the process meets the imperative of transparency, legality and fairness,” Nandlall explained.

The Attorney General revealed that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, has since sought the intervention of the Chancellor of the Judiciary. He was hopeful that this would result in the cases being fast-tracked and specific Magistrates possibly being assigned to deal with these charges.

“I am aware that the Director of Public Prosecutions has written to the Chancellor of the Judiciary, requesting the Chancellor’s intervention. The Chancellor has a supervisory authority over Magistrates in the country.”

The Attorney General opined that despite the matter being one of national importance, it was not being treated with the seriousness it deserves by the Judiciary. And he compared it to the time when he himself was charged with theft of law books, or when now President Dr Irfaan Ali was charged with fraud or when other senior officials in the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) were charged. Nandlall noted that those cases against PPP members proceeded with alacrity, until they were either dismissed or discontinued.

“It behooves me to comment fairly, but critically on the reason why. Magistrates after Magistrates have found reasons that can’t withstand scrutiny, for not proceeding to try these cases. And other related cases. Magistrates have found reasons after reasons to recuse themselves. The law of recusal is clear.”

“Some of the reasons are, somebody is a member of a credit union, with one person. Or somebody serve in the army, with the husband of one of the defence counsel. These are some of the reasons given in some of these cases,” Nandlall further pointed out.

In December, Senior Magistrate Leron Daly had scheduled January 15, 2024 to fix a date for a case management conference (CMC) for the electoral fraud cases, taking a step toward starting the trial into the more than two dozen fraud charges arising from the March 2020 General and Regional Elections.

The defendants are former District Four (Demerara-Mahaica) Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo; former People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Chairperson Volda Lawrence; PNCR activist Carol Smith-Joseph; former Chief Elections Officer (CEO), Keith Lowenfield; former Deputy Chief Elections Officer Roxanne Myers; and Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) employees Sheffern February, Enrique Livan, Denise Babb-Cummings and Michelle Miller.

They are accused of a number of offences, including misconduct while holding public office, presenting falsified documentation, and planning to manipulate Guyana’s voters by presenting an inaccurate vote total.

Shortly after GECOM had announced the election results on August 2, 2020, charges were brought against the individuals in question. The trials have not started after more than three years, prompting the voicing of concerns by a number of persons, including Nandlall.

The election report of former CEO Keith Lowenfield claimed that the APNU/AFC coalition garnered 171,825 votes, while the PPP/C gained 166,343 votes. How he arrived at those figures is still unknown, since the certified results from the recount exercise supervised by GECOM and a high-level team from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) pellucidly showed that the PPP/C won with 233,336 votes, while the coalition garnered 217,920.

The recount exercise also highlighted that Mingo had heavily inflated the figures in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) — Guyana’s largest voting District — in favour of the then-caretaker APNU/AFC regime. In August 2021, GECOM voted to terminate the employment of Keith Lowenfield, Roxanne Myers, and Clairmont Mingo.