Guyana Court of Appeal rules CARICOM-supervised vote recount illegal

Bharrat Jagdeo, Roxane George-Wiltshire and David Granger

GEORGETOWN, Guyana – The Court of Appeal has ruled that it would be unconstitutional and unlawful for a high-level Caribbean Community (CARICOM) team to supervise the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in a national recount of the March 2 general and regional elections.

But GECOM said today that it will be requesting the return of the team to validate the recount.

Last month, President David Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo reached an agreement to have a CARICOM team oversee the recounting of ballots in all 10 administrative regions in the country to put doubts about the validity of the results to rest. A five-member high-level team was dispatched to Guyana but left after an injunction was filed to block the recount.

In a ruling handed down  on Monday  in a case brought by a private citizen, the Court of Appeal said while the recount could go ahead, CARICOM’s “supervisory” involvement in the recount would be illegal.

But GECOM made it clear that CARICOM’s involvement would be to validate, saying that the team’s presence would give credibility to the process.

GECOM Commissioner Vincent Alexander told the media after a meeting of the elections body today, that the agency will be soliciting the return of members of the team who, after spending four days in Guyana last month, returned to their respective countries following the filing of the injunction.

“The idea is to see if we can still get the CARICOM body, not as supervising the count but their presence can give some credibility to what GECOM does. The Commission will be reaching out. We have decided today that our preference in terms of external bodies to give validation is CARICOM.  They will be informed soonest,” he told journalists following the meeting at which the modalities for the recount were examined.

Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield has been tasked with drafting the official document for the process.

Alexander said the recount will follow all procedures of regular polling stations. Instead of the regular Statements of Poll, however, he explained that the commission will be developing a similar document to record the votes tabulated.

“Along with the recount of the ballots, everything that is done at a polling station will be also be done during the counting. All of the issues of rejected ballots, all of those things will come up for review,” he said.

Regarding the roles of Returning Officers, Alexander said the commission has not decided whether or not they will be part of the process. He said Lowenfield will make such a determination.

The CARICOM team that had been chosen was chaired by the former Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Dominica Francine Baron and included Grenada’s Minister of Finance Anthony Boatswain, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government of UWI Cynthia Barrow-Giles, Barbados’ Chief Electoral Officer Angela Taylor, and Chief Elections Officer of Trinidad and Tobago Fern Narcis-Scope.

At a press conference in his country , Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who was among CARICOM leaders who went to Guyana to help broker the deal between Granger and Jagdeo, expressed concern about the Court of Appeal’s ruling about the team’s involvement in the recount.

“That finding of a court must be of concern to every member of CARICOM because it would be predicated on an understanding that CARICOM had done something that a court has found to be illegal, and I want you to separate that from the actions of individuals within the context of the political environment of Guyana and the political leaders,” he said.

Rowley stressed that under the agreement that had been reached, the CARICOM team would not engage in the actual counting of ballots, and their presence was simply to ensure that the recount was done in a free, fair, transparent and credible manner.