Election’s fraud cases: Judiciary, magistracy undermining governance in Guyana – VP Jagdeo

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

…says delay will embolden riggers, coup plotters

General Secretary of the ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Bharrat Jagdeo, has again expressed dissatisfaction over the prolonged delays with the electoral fraud cases, stating that the Magistracy, and the judiciary by extension, is undermining the governance system in Guyana.

On Wednesday, Magistrate Leron Daly, who is presiding over the 2020 election fraud case, referred a request from the defence team for copies of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) minutes, to the High Court for “constitutional considerations” – a move which the State’s Special Prosecutor, Darshan Ramdhani, KC, said would not help the defence’s case and is a delaying tactic.

Embattled Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, former Chief Elections officer Keith Lowenfield, and Deputy CEO Roxanne Myers, along with other GECOM staff and members of the PNC-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) party, are facing electoral fraud charges following the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Elections.

During his weekly press conference on Thursday at the PPP’s Freedom House head office, Jagdeo bemoaned the slothfulness of the cases in the Magistrates’ Court. He stated, “…as a citizen of this country and also General Secretary of a party that would not have been in office had the designs PNC-led APNU/AFC and these individuals – Mingo, Lowenfield, Myers… Had they succeeded, this country would not have been a democratic country and would probably be under sanctions etc. This is a serious matter.”

Embolden riggers, coup plotters

Jagdeo pointed out to the seriousness and urgency with which courts in other countries deal with electoral fraud cases, compared to the local judiciary.

“In our case, you’ve had merry-go-round. It’s all transparent. That they don’t want these people to go to trial because the evidence is so overwhelming that it would support a conviction and jail for these individuals. And so, the Judiciary here [and] the Magistracy, they’re frustrating the will of the people and they’re not allowing justice to be done, and they’re undermining governance in this country because any would be rigger or coup plotter, or anything else, maybe emboldened by this,” he argued.

Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

Without encroaching on the carved-out territory preserved for the judiciary, Jagdeo posited that there may be a need now for serious introspection by this branch of the government and possibly a revision of the contempt of court laws.

According to the PPP General Secretary, in countries like the US, persons can openly discuss decisions of a judge whereas in Guyana, one has to tiptoe around the issue with fear of being held in contempt of court.

“It’s time now that we speak up about this… People talk about criticism of the judiciary; well I think we got to look at these matters – contempt of court proceedings. In the US, you can examine any decision of a judge or a magistrate openly without being cited for contempt. Here in Guyana, people are tiptoeing around the issue because they’re worried about it and I think maybe it’s time we address this legislatively,” he opined.

Jagdeo outlined that the other Branches of Government – Legislative and Executive – are often bearing the weight of public opinion while the Judiciary is spared being held accountable by the people.

“The legislative arm of the government has to be accountable to people or they get changed. They executive arm would get changed by the people if they are not accountable. So, it can’t be that only one branch of the government could be unaccountable for performance when it harms the interest of the people of the country. I’m not asking for a particular decision. We’re not saying we want the persons convicted or not, we’re asking that you proceed with the trial. It’s been too long; it’s been almost four years now and we can’t get to trial,” the PPP General Secretary contended.

In June 2021, Mingo, Lowenfield and Myers along with former People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Chairperson Volda Lawrence; PNCR activist Carol Smith-Joseph, and GECOM employees Sheffern February, Enrique Livan, Denise Babb-Cummings, and Michelle Miller were slapped with fraud charges, stemming from attempts to rig the 2020 General and Regional Elections in favour of the then incumbent APNU/AFC Coalition Administration.

These accused persons, who are all out on cash bail, 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.

Since those charges were filed, however, the cases have been languishing in the Magistrates’ Courts.

Moreover, the cases will now be even further delayed given the recent request by defence attorney, Nigel Hughes, for the minutes from GECOM’s meeting and the subsequent decision by Magistrate Daly to refer the matter to the High Court to determine whether Section 140 (2) of the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) clashed with constitutional considerations pertaining to the right to a fair trial and the disclosure of the documents, which are in GECOM’s possession.

Section 140 (2) of ROPA states that “No evidence of any deliberations of the Elections Commission or communications between members of the Commission regarding its business shall be admissible in any court”.

Special Prosecutor Darshan Ramdhani, KC, told the Guyana Times on Wednesday, “We do believe that the minutes that they’re seeking from GECOM really takes their defence nowhere. We believe that this, coming at this stage, is an attempt to delay and derail this matter. We, of course, are bound by the order of the Magistrate, which indicates whether ROPA, Section 140 (2) interferes with the right to a fair trial. The Magistrate felt that that matter had to be determined. And the Magistrate sent that matter to the High Court.”