Chief Elections Officer recalls staff running `helter-skelter'

by George Barclay
Guyana Chronicle
March 16, 2000

CHIEF Elections Officer, Mr Stanley Singh, said yesterday that it was the helter-skelter running of his staff that caused him to realise that Commission Chairman Doodnauth Singh had declared Mrs Janet Jagan President at the 1997 Elections.

Mr Singh, who said this under cross-examination by Mr Rex McKay, S.C. at the hearing of the Esther Perreira Elections Petition, also told Justice Claudette Singh that at the time of the declaration the verification exercise was still in progress.

After the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) admitted that he was part of the verification process that was trying to verify the number of valid votes cast for each party before making a declaration, Mr McKay asked:

"Would you not say that as a result of the action of the Chairman you were stabbed in the back?"

Mr Singh said, "I was not only stabbed in the back. I was stabbed all around."

This caused laughter in the crowded Courtroom.

Mr Stanley Singh was still under cross-examination when the hearing was adjourned to today.

Chairman of the Commission, Mr Doodnauth Singh, S.C. is appearing for CEO Singh and the Elections Commission.

Mr Peter Britton, S.C. and Mr Raphael Trotman are appearing for the petitioner Perreira, while Mr Rex McKay and Mr Shaun Allicock are appearing for Mr Hoyte.

On the resumption yesterday, Mr Stanley Singh armed with a bundle of documents took up his position in the witness-box for continuation of cross-examination.

He told the Court that he did make a declaration which did not find favour with the Chairman.

That document was withdrawn, he said, on the grounds of errors of addition and substraction, and the fact that the verification exercise was in progress.

Mr Singh also identified a letter sent to People's National Congress leader Mr Desmond Hoyte, which missive had asked him to disregard an earlier document which had been sent to him in error.

According to Mr Singh, the errors were discovered by the Returning Officers after a recalculation of the figures.

Mr Singh said that he subsequently issued two certificates, one on his own volition, and the other at the request of Mr Doodnauth Singh on the December 29, 1997.

Witness could not remember exactly when Mr Singh asked him to issue the second certificate.

Mr McKay said: "I want to know what he told you when he asked you to issue another certificate?"

Witness: "He said that there were some inaccuracies in the calculations."

Witness admitted that the verification exercise was in progress at the time, and he could not have brought those certificates to the attention of the Commissioners who were involved in the exercise.

The Commission, he said, should have made the declaration.

Mr Singh said that the calculations were made on the basis of information on the Statements of Polls which were written up by the Presiding Officers.

He said that they had discovered that 160 out of 1,844 Statements of Poll were unsigned.

Witness admitted that in addition to the unsigned Statements of Poll, there were Statements of Poll where there were no originals and they had to rely on duplicates.

Mr Singh said that there was also the problem of Statements of Poll being signed by the wrong persons.

Asked to record his involvement in the declaration of the President by the Chairman of the Elections Commission on December 19, witness said: "I do know that the Chairman had made a declaration on the 19th."

Admitting that it was secret, Mr Singh added, "The Chairman told me. I recall having one of my officers with me at the time. He was Mr Ganga Persaud, Senior Manager, Operations.

Asked what he told the Chairman when he was told about his (the Chairman's) plan to issue a declaration, Mr Singh replied, "I told him that the verification process was in progress and I recommended that a meeting of the Commission should be convened before any such step is taken."

Witness caused laughter in the Courtroom when he mentioned that his advice was "heeded in the breach".

According to CEO, the Chairman instructed him to invite members of the Commission to the Chairman's office.

He proceeded to do so by telephone.

"But before this assembly could take place, I was informed that the President had been declared," the CEO said.

He told McKay, "I recorded it as a serious matter. I thought it was sensitive enough in regard to what was going on in the building and what was happening in the streets."

Mr Singh went on to answer that the letter to Mr Hoyte had given the assurance that no declaration would be made until the verification exercise was completed.

In answer to further questions, witness said that there was a decision taken that Voter Identification Cards should be issued to each voter and that became law by legislative amendment.

It was also a decision that no person should be permitted to vote without a Voter ID Card.

Witness said that it was rumoured that Voter ID Cards were being sold in the street and that one Voter ID Card was found in the river.

He also learnt that some Voter ID cards carried the wrong photographs, but as Chief Elections Officer he never received an official report about the above that would necessitate investigation by him.

Quizzed about Page 29 of the Cross Report, witness admitted seeing recorded that a number of persons had voted without Voter Identification Cards. He, however, claimed that he did not participate in the Caricom Audit.

According to him, "I was being audited."

Asked how he came to know that the Presidency was announced, witness explained, "It was about midday, when my staff was running helter-skelter through the gate. I asked why and they said `This country gun burn down. We are going home. Doodnauth Singh just announced the Presidency'."

The hearing continues today when Mr Stanley Singh will be further cross-examined on the subject of the distribution of Voter Identification Cards.

When the cross-examination of Mr Stanley Singh is completed, he will be re-examined by Mr Doodnauth Singh.