By Lincoln Lewis
The letters by Justice Claudette Singh, Chair of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to Keith Lowenfield, Chief Election Officer; Roxanne Myers, Deputy Chief Election Officer; and Clairmont Mingo, Region Four Returning Officer, fly in the face of established international principles, natural justice, and common law tenets. Those letters, asking the named officers to show cause why they should not be dismissed, are based on a motion tabled by the three government-nominated commissioners to have them dismissed.
The Commission was established to engender confidence in the electoral system by having the two sides (government and opposition) sharing equal representation and a consensus candidate presiding as chair, tasked with the responsibility to bring the parties together in arriving at consensual decisions. This is necessary in our society where politics has a racial component that could be contentious and injurious. Thus, the spirit and intent of one of the functions of the commission is to defuse, not stoke acts inimical to fostering a cohesive society and confidence in the process.
Justice Singh has been a guardian of this nation’s laws for decades. She presided as Judge and Appellate Judge in our courts. She also served as legal advisor to the Guyana Police Force before taking up the appointment as Chair. Justice Singh, like the three GECOM commissioners, are attorneys-at-law by profession. They know better, but when persons are prepared to put laws and principles under their feet, we end up with the situation we have today.
It is one thing siding with members of the fraternity or being influenced by them. It is quite another to acquiesce to any effort on the part of any member to violate the sacred tenets of the fraternity. The officers’ rights are being transgressed by persons who ought to know better and by profession are considered leading advocates for enforcing the laws. Incidents of this nature Desmond Hoyte would have called “Executive lawlessness” because administrative authority, which GECOM is a part of, is being abused.
It matters not whether one likes or dislikes a person or takes umbrage to any action committed by the person, alleged or confirmed. Everyone has a right under the law to due process. If Justice Singh did not want to take a public stand for principles in the presence of both the opposition and government-nominated commissioners, she could have pulled the three aside and reminded them of the oath they took when they were admitted to the bar.
The society is teetering, once again, on the brink. If we are not careful, we all will be consumed, including the facilitators of the lawlessness, for lawlessness cares not who it consumes in the quest for chaos and disorder. Dangerous precedents continue to be set, undermining the principles of democracy, including the integrity of the vote and the laws governing the nation. Some are taking the political not legal road to resolve differences. The acts of trampling on law and order will come back to haunt.
There is a similar incident in the Police Service Commission (PSC). Even as charges of conspiracy to defraud were brought against the members they are being asked by Prime Minister Mark Phillips to show cause why they should not be removed. In both instances the powers that be are stomping on the law and citizens’ rights. The opportunity is taken to remind them of a pivotal moment in this nation’s history when one man, from the legal fraternity, pulled the nation back.
Former Chancellor, Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Keith Massiah, writing in his Minority Report in the 2005 Commission of Inquiry into the Death/Phantom Squads said: “Killings, however reasonable and expedient in the opinion of many persons of goodwill, ought not to be countenanced. Even the alleged serial killer, the persistent rapist and the paedophile, detestable as those pariahs are, enjoy the fundamental right to a fair hearing and the full protection of due process. Persons who are thought to have committed crimes must be arrested, charged and tried in a court of law. Nothing less can be accepted.”
Whereas the cases of GECOM and the PSC do not equate to the blood baths the nation witnessed during the killing spree under Minister of Home Affairs Ronald Gajraj the reference is pertinent. For it makes the point that everyone is entitled to justice. This society was reminded by Chancellor Massiah that even those we detest our feelings are not superior to their rights and the law. Society should expect and demand nothing less from Singh and Phillips.
Justice Claudette Singh is out of order participating in the act of railroading due process, time honoured principles and practices. She is not above being held to account. A worker cannot be charged by the state for an alleged infraction against the organisation and then subsequently an internal investigation is being carried out with intent to discipline on the same issue. Consistent with established international principles the accused/defence ought not to be put in any position to lead evidence that could prejudice their case in a court of law. One will expect that Justice Singh knows this. Rights and the Rule of Law must always reign supreme in this nation, not gut-feelings and political machinations.