Black Immigrant Daily News
Former Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield and Returning Officer for Region Four Clairmont Mingo appeared before the Commission of Inquiry on Friday
The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the March 2020 elections continued on Friday with former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Keith Lowenfield and former embattled Returning Officer for Region Four Clairmont Mingo indicating that they will not testify due to their pending court cases.
Both Lowenfield and Mingo were summoned by the Commission.
Their lawyer, Attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes, indicated to the Commission that both of his clients are defendants in criminal proceedings relating to the 2020 elections, hence they would not testify.
Lowenfield and Mingo then took the stand during which Chairman of the Commission, Justice Retired Stanley John who informed them that they are not bound to answer any questions that would incriminate them.
The two former GECOM officials both reaffirmed their decisions to remain silent.Both men, along with other GECOM employees as well as party members from the PNC-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), have been charged with a sleuth of electoral fraud charges.
It was revealed during the COI that Mingo attempted to use a spreadsheet with concocted figures to tabulate the votes for Region Four – Guyana’s largest voting district. A subsequent national recount had revealed that the then RO had heavily inflated the figures from the region in favour of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC).
Meanwhile, the GECOM Chair, Retired Justice Claudette Singh, had testified in December 2022 that both Mingo and Lowenfield had repeatedly refused to abide by specific instructions by the Elections Commission as well as the Courts regarding the electoral process to be used to tabulate the votes and eventually declare the results of the elections.
Only Thursday, former APNU/AFC Ministers Dr Karen Cummings and Volda Lawrence along with the party’s Chief Scrutineer Carol Smith-Joseph, who are also facing electoral fraud charges, opted not to give evidence after being summoned by the Commission.The same position was adopted by several other GECOM employees who were called to testify before the CoI last December due to pending investigations and criminal charges against them.
They cited Article 144 (7) of the Constitution of Guyana, which states: “No person who is tried for a criminal offence shall be compelled to give evidence at the trial.”
In total, some 32 electoral fraud cases have been filed in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts against several political activists and GECOM officials including Deputy Chief Elections Officer Roxanne Myers stemming from the events that unfolded following the March 2, 2020, General and Regional Elections, which resulted in a five-month political and electoral impasse.
Meanwhile, Friday’s hearing also saw Senior Superintendent of Police Phillip Azore reserving his right to remain silent as well when he appeared before the Commission of Inquiry in response to being summoned.
However, COI Commissioner, Retired Justice Carl Singh, informed the officer that previous testimonies had placed him in certain events that took place on March 5, 2022 at the Ashmin’s Building and further enquired whether he would still maintain his position. In response, Azore insisted “I would like to remain silent.”
Earlier this week, former Police Commissioner Leslie James had testified that he had put Azore in charge of the Georgetown Division and to take control of the Ashmin’s Building, which was being used as the Command Centre for Region Four, after contact could not be made with then Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police Edgar Thomas.
At the time when Azore took over, not only was he a deputy to the Commander but Thomas was also unaware that his command was taken away – something which James had confirmed.
“[Thomas] would’ve been unaware that his command was taken because he was not contacted… The [Deputy Commissioner of Police – Operations Maxine Graham] was instructed to communicate the decision that he was no longer in command because we didn’t want a conflict between himself and the person who was stood up as the commander… [But] in all fairness to Mr Thomas, he may have been ignorant of the change in command that was made,” the former Top Cop had explained.
Nevertheless, James returned to give further evidence before the COI on Friday morning regarding his decision to have ACP Thomas replaced by Senior Superintendent Azore, among other things. During his testimony, the former Police Commissioner related that he expected Azore to extend professional courtesies to Thomas.
“The Police Force is a disciplined organisation and at that time, Mr Thomas was still superior to [Azore],” James posited.
ACP Thomas had told the Commission during his testimony in November 2022 that he was ignored by Azore when he questioned why he [Azore] showed up to take control of Ashmin’s Building.
Also on Friday, Superintendent of Police Crystal Robinson, who was the Divisional Commander for Region Two in 2020, also took the stand on Friday during which she testified about instructions given to them to pass on certain information including copies of Statements of Poll (SoPs) from various polling stations to the hierarchy of the Police Force via a WhatsApp group that was created.