Chief Elections Officer faces life imprisonment, hefty fines; special provisions for Region Four declaration of results in draft amended election law

The Chief Elections Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) could be fined GY$10 million and jailed for 10 years if he or she posts a false statement of poll on the commission’s website, according to wide-ranging amendments to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA).

“The objective of the amendments to the electoral laws is to examine the process from registration to the declaration of the results, so that every stage of the process is unambiguous and transparent. This significant step in the electoral reform process is necessary to ensure Local Government, and General and Regional elections are conducted in a free, fair and transparent manner,” the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance said in a statement.

The draft amended Representation of the People Act, which was Friday circulated for six weeks of consultation, states that statements of Poll for all future elections must be posted on a website

If passed as amended by government’s simple parliamentary majority, the RoPA requires the Chief Election Officer to “immediately” post the each District Tabulation Form from the returning officer, and each Sub-District Tabulation Form from the supernumerary returning officer to GECOM’s website.

“The Chief Election Officer who knowingly posts or caused to be posted on the Commission’s website a District Tabulation Form or a Sub-District tabulation Form that is not a true copy of the certified copy of the Form or that contains a false statement, commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of ten million dollars and to imprisonment for life,” states the draft that was released by the Minister of Governance and Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira.

The then Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield and the then Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo , whose contracts have since been  terminated, had been cited for declaring different results. They and a number of other GECOM officials and members of the People’s National Congress Reform are before the courts for electoral fraud charges.

The amended RoPA also mandates the Returning Officer and supernumerary returning officer to “deliver manually by the quickest means” to the Chief Elections Officer a certified copy of the district tabulation form or the sub-district tabulation form from which the returning officer or supernumerary returning officer has made his declaration of the total number of valid votes cast in the district or sub-district for each list of candidates.

Further anyone caught removing such documents from outside polling places would be fined GY$10 million and jailed for 10 years.

According to the proposed amendment, a anyone who fails to follow the procedure to ascertain the total votes cast in a district or subdistrict for each list of candidates commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of GY$10 million dollars and to imprisonment for life.

District Four (Demerara-Mahaica)

Proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act also add specific provisions for District Four (Demerara-Mahaica) where both the governing People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) and the now opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) had claimed that there had been massive voter fraud.

In particular, anyone who fails to deliver to the returning officer of district Region 4 a true certified copy of the Sub-district Tabulation Form or who delivers the Sub-district Tabulation Form with falsified information commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of GY$10 dollars and to imprisonment for life.

The amendment caters for the breaking up of electoral District/ Region Four into four polling sub-districts- East Bank Demerara, North Georgetown, South Georgetown and East Coast Demerara.

The proposed amendment further states that immediately after the supernumerary returning officer of a sub-district has declared the total votes cast in favour of each list of candidates in the sub-district recorded on the Sub-District Tabulation Form, he shall deliver manually, by the quickest available means, a certified copy of the Sub-District Tabulation Form on which the votes are recorded to the Returning Officer of district Region 4.

After the Returning Officer for Region Four receives all the Sub-District Tabulation Forms, in ascertaining the total votes cast in favour of each list in district Region 4, the Returning Officer would be required to   display, using an electronic mechanism, each Sub-district Tabulation Form for all the persons entitled under section 86(1) to be present as attend, to see clearly the information on the Tabulation Form.

The Returning Officer, according to the intended amendment, then has to record on an empty District Tabulation Form displayed for all to see, the total votes recorded in favour of each list of candidates in each sub-district on the Subdistrict Tabulation Form as it is being displayed.

After this is done, the Returning Officer must give an opportunity for objections from any duly appointed candidate or counting agent and shall not move on to display another Sub-district Tabulation Form unless all the information required from the Sub-district Tabulation Form being displayed is dealt with to the satisfaction of every person present.

The Returning Officer then has to add together the total votes recorded for each list of candidates in each sub-district on the District Tabulation Form and record each total on the District Tabulation Form. It is only after immediately a ascertaining the total votes cast in favour of each list of candidates, the Returning Officer of district Region 4 shall publicly declare the total votes recorded for each list of candidates in district Region 4 on the District Tabulation Form.”

Seemingly against the back-drop of multiple declarations for Region Four and question marks about the tabulation process, the proposed change to the RoPA envisages harsh punishment for the Region Four Returning Officer in particular. “A person who fails to deliver to the returning officer of district Region 4 a true certified copy of the Sub-district Tabulation Form or who delivers the Sub-district Tabulation Form with falsified information commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of ten million dollars and to imprisonment for life.”

Under the proposed regulations accompanying the Representation of the People Act,  anyone who denies any assistant agent, counting agent, polling agent or alternate polling agent entry into the polling station commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of  GYD$10 million dollars and imprisonment for ten years.

The Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance says, which is leading and coordinating the consultation process with national stakeholders, says  hardcopies of the proposed are being circulated to political parties and civil society organizations.

The Ministry says it will also collect and coordinate feedback from individuals and organizations, and compile these for the Government’s review. Government says another set of draft amendments will be added shortly to the consultation process with regards to the registration of voters under the National Registration Act.

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