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Mr. Nigel Hinds was one of the scores of unauthorised persons in the Ashmins Building the evening of March 5, 2020. The building was rented by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as the headquarters of Region Four for the March 2020 General and Regional Elections.
On that fateful evening the building was overrun by an invasion of persons and what ensued was mob-like behaviour, open challenge to the authority of GECOM and the Guyana Police Force to maintain law and order.
Some claim, including then Opposition Leader and Leader of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, the invasion was to enquire into the well-being of GECOM Chairperson, retired Justice Claudette Singh, which was later proven to be without merit.
The incident as Ashmins has left many unanswered questions and some have even called for a Commission of Inquiry to no avail.
Village Voice held a conservation with Hinds to hear his account of the incident and issues pertaining to the Elections. The conversation follows: –
Village Voice: Can you state what happened on March 5, 2020?
Hinds: The day March 5, 2020 started with several representatives of the Opposition parties going to Ashmins building, we were there primarily to oversee the announcement of votes by District Four Returning Officer (RO) Clairmont Mingo.
The morning started with the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Karen Cummings briefing the Representatives of the overseas missions and organisations and a few local party representatives.
I was in the room when there were heated verbal exchanges, eventually the Minister said she had to take a call, and the meeting informally ended. While we were still gathered in the room sans Dr. Cummings; Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Ms. Roxanne Myers asked us to clear the room for security reasons.
The meeting occurred around 10:00 a.m. to the best of my recollection.
The afternoon was spent with most party representatives in the main room on the ground floor where the ballot boxes were being stored for the announcement of Region Four results by Mr. Mingo.
Mr. Mingo’s first attempt at calling out the results ended in chaos, as party representatives were opposed to the rapid reading out of the results, without any time to reconcile or verify the partial results being presented by Mr. Mingo, using the summary Statement of Poll sheets. The process was eventually abandoned.
Then an employee of GECOM, Mr. Joseph Eastman made an attempt to announce how the second attempt to present the Region Four results would be presented. This was done in the presence of several A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Ministers who had come in, seemingly to witness the announcement of Region Four Results.
The efforts by Mr. Eastman were scuttled, after he was asked in what capacity he was making the pronouncements and who authorised him to do so. I recall asking him the question. Suffice to say, Mr. Eastman’s efforts were ended with the loud protests and uncontrollable situation in the room engendered by the Opposition Parties.
We were eventually told that Mr. Mingo would announce the results later in the afternoon.
All the while the PPP were attempting to get an injunction from the High Court to prevent Mr. Mingo from making any announcement of Region Four results that were not in compliance with the law.
Eventually, Mr. Mingo stood on the platform of the stairway in Ashmins Building to announce the results. This was not well received, as there was a drumbeat of noise and objections primarily from senior members of the PPP.
Bedlam seemed to rule the moment, as heated exchanges took place between ANPU and PPP senior members, some of the comments made lacked any civility. Eventually, Mr. Mingo efforts to read out results were halted.
The rest of the day was generally taken up with awaiting a statement from Chairperson of GECOM, Justice Claudette Singh. Justice Singh was in the building all day.
Concerns were expressed by the then Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, about the well-being of Justice Singh, with the expression that she was being held against her will and not allowed to leave the building.
At approximately 4:00 p.m. on March 5, 2020, we were told Justice Singh needed medical attention. A person purporting to be a neighbour and friend of Justice Singh indicated that she had called him. We were also told by the concerned friend and neighbour that Justice Singh suffered from fainting spells.
Shortly after, a team arrived with a gurney to take Justice Singh to a hospital, however they were denied access to enter the area where the Chairperson was located.
We were told that the building had to be evacuated due to rumors of a bomb in the building. No one to my knowledge complied voluntarily with the request to evacuate the building.
Shortly after that, the then Opposition Leader, Mr. Jagdeo told those gathered in the room that we ought to ensure that Justice Singh was okay, as it appeared she was being constrained and in need of medical attention.
Some of us decided to take action to ensure that Justice Singh was okay.
My two aides from Change Guyana Party, Clifton Joseph and Dimitrious, along with Bharrat Jagdeo, Mark Phillips and Glenn Hanoman formed the lead group to get past the policemen guarding the stairway that led to the top floor and the office/room where Justice Singh occupied.
We tried to persuade the policemen to allow us to go up the staircase to ensure that the Chairperson of GECOM was not being held under duress. The police indicated that they were under orders not to let anyone go upstairs.
After several verbal exchanges, we pushed past the resistant policemen to get up the stairs. I led the charge and received a few blows from batons in the process. Directly behind me were my two Change Guyana aides- Clifton and Dimitrious, along with Bharrat Jagdeo, Mark Phillips and Glenn Hanoman. We managed to get past the policemen at the bottom and top of the stairway.
The policemen did not use any extreme violent measures to prevent us from going upstairs.
Once upstairs we managed to get into a room that was connected to the room where I saw Justice Singh sitting. She looked exhausted and did by physical motion indicate she was okay. Within seconds, Justice Singh was moved to another room in the rotunda structured building.
After that a few persons were held by the Police. It was nearing 6:30 p.m. by then. The day culminated with the release of the General Elections vote count gathered by the PPP, this was followed by a Joint Press Conference from all the Opposition Parties. The Press conference was held at Sleepin International Hotel on Church Street.
Village Voice: Why were you among the group who sought to force entry into GECOM Chair’s office?
Hinds: I am a Co-Founder and was Chairman of Change Guyana Party.
Reasons for trying to locate the Chairperson are referenced above.
Village Voice: Why was the command issued by the police to vacate the building ignored?
Hinds: I believed that ensuring the well-being and safety of Justice Singh took precedence over the request by the police.
Village Voice: Why did you accuse Enrico Woolford having “no shame” for being present in the building at the time doing his job as broadcast journalist, videotaping the incident (Woolford is a broadcast journalist and owner of Capital News)
Hinds: I can’t recall exactly what I said to Enrico. Enrico has been my friend since the 1980s, his work as a sports broadcaster and mentor to me, was a boost to my career in sports and beyond.
What I recall saying to Enrico was that he should speak out against what was clearly an abuse of power. Enrico videoed the entire event from Mr. Mingo’s attempted second reading of Region Four results, the bedlam and hostile exchanges between seniors members of the two major parties during and after Mr. Mingo’s second aborted reading of Region Four results and our ascent and access to the office/room to locate the Chairperson.
Village Voice- Could you share your opinion on the evidence unearthed in the National Recount exercise?
Hinds: The findings during the National Recount were not sufficient enough to overturn the 15,000 margins of victory by the PPP.
However, the findings confirmed the view that elections should never again be held in Guyana using the outdated Voters List.
Village Voice: Do you think those results should have been declared solely on numbers or the irregularities should have been weeded out? Please explain your answer.
Hinds: If the irregularities found were material enough, the numbers ought not to be relied upon to make a declaration. Due to the inflated list and time limit on the recount, it was reasonable to use the numbers from the recount for the declaration of a winner.The parties that set the recount timeline could have negotiated to extend the timeline.
It is my view that trying to medicate a dead voters list with recounts is an exercise in futility. What is needed is a New Voters List.
Village Voice: If you had the opportunity to relive that evening would you repeat the same actions or done things differently?
Hinds: We are all geniuses with the benefit of hindsight.
If I had known at the time that once the PPP got into power, they would unleash economic and social genocide upon African-Guyanese and marginalisation of non-supporters of the PPP, I certainly would not have acted in the manner I did during the transition period.
Village Voice: Why haven’t you participated at the Commission of Inquiry into the March 2020 General and Regional Elections?
Hinds: I look forward to participating in the CoI into the March 2, 2020 General Elections. I will make efforts to do so during the week ending December 10, 2022.
My testimony to the COI will be the truth and nothing but the unvarnished truth.
Former Chairman of GECOM, Dr Steve Surujbally had stated prior to the 2015 elections that no other elections should be held in Guyana, without a new House-to-House Registration that forms the basis for a new Voters List.
Last time Guyana concluded a House-to-House Registration was in 2008, approximately fifteen years ago. We absolutely need a new Voters List to avoid actual fraudulent elections and to mitigate significantly the troubling findings during the National Recount.
It takes a lot of courage and integrity to concede an election, when you are governing a country that has just discovered untold billions of barrels of premium quality oil reserves!