CEO Singh tells Court about an 'honest unlawful act'

by George Barclay
Guyana Chronicle
March 17, 2000

CHIEF Elections Officer Mr Stanley Singh yesterday said that a Deputy Returning Officer who authenticated five Statements of Poll for Presiding Officers had committed an "honest unlawful act".

The CEO, who was spending his third day in the witness box at the hearing of the Esther Perreira Elections petition, had earlier admitted that Jaigobin Mohabir, a Deputy Returning Officer, had signed five Statements of Poll to authenticate five Presiding Officers.

Singh had also said that the Act provided for Presiding Officers alone to sign Statements of Poll.

On the resumption yesterday, the Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Mr Stanley Singh, was further cross-examined by Senior Counsel Mr Rex McKay, who is appearing for the respondent Mr Desmond Hoyte of the PNC.

Mr Doodnauth Singh, S.C. is appearing for the Elections Commission.

Reacting to a question from Mr McKay the day before, Mr Singh had told Justice Claudette Singh that Section 14 (1) and (2) of the Representation of the People Act had given the Chairman of the Elections Commission the power to act on behalf of the Commission.

He disagreed with McKay that the interpretation of what was written in the Act was that the Chairman can only act on the advice of the Commission.

Witness admitted that on January 14 1998 he had received a letter from Donna Harris, a coordinator and one of the supervisors of the Computer Section, on the subject of `Computer Report on Elections Results.'

At the request of Mr McKay the witness Singh read parts of the letter which stated:-

"In relation to your statement that the section was asked to produce the elections result as per unit, may I remind you and state categorically that this request was never made by your office.

"In an effort to complete the computer verification and clear up a number of misconceptions about the computer exercise, we sought to obtain the summaries completed by Returning officers. To our dismay, we discovered a significant number of discrepancies between the box numbers we have used in compiling the results and the box numbers used by some returning officers.

"Note that the Division and corresponding box numbers used in compiling the computed results were given to us by Mr Persaud, Deputy Commissioner of Registration (ag) a few days before elections and were subsequently used by Fr. Curtis in compiling the master document with division numbers and corresponding box and ID numbers.

"You would recall that controversy between the Commission and some Political Parties was generated over discrepancies between the results on the computer printout with specific reference our division numbers and corresponding box vis-a-vis the numbers on the parties' Statements of Poll.

"Some examples of these discrepancies are as follows:-

(a) The summary from District 5 shows based on the corrections made by the Returning Officer, that Divisions 5111 and 511222 have the same box number 1282.

"Of the 107 boxes on the Returning Officers' summary, 103 box numbers are different to our records.

"There are numerous changes to the results we entered from Statements of Poll (SOPs) and telephone forms and verified manually. These figures have to be corrected and totals checked particularly since we have discovered a few inaccuracies in the totals.

"We are still in the process of reconciling and correcting these differences and we are currently changing box numbers for Region 5. To complete the exercise, however, we would need the following documents:-

(a) summaries with results from all the regions, and

(b) copies of all Statements of Poll to extract spoilt and rejected ballots for which we have no record."

In answer to Mr McKay, witness said that he understood what Miss Harris was saying in her letter and felt that it was a complaint which affected the system.

Mr Singh said that he replied to the letter but got no acknowledgment from Donna Harris that his reply had been received.

Witness said that he believed that he had a copy of the reply in his office and promised to bring same with him to Court next week.

Asked how the complaints made by Harris affected the system, witness said that it delayed the final ascertainment of the results.

Questioned about the Statements of Poll, Singh said that the most important document for the purpose of calculating the votes cast for each party was the Statement of Poll.

Witness agreed that there were deficiencies in the Statements of Poll but said that he could not say how many.

He recalled that there were about 160 unsigned Statements of Poll, without the Presiding Officers' signatures, and multiple signing by one person for others.

He accepted the statement in the Commission's report that certain original Statements of Poll were not available, but he did not have a record of the number of original Statements of Poll which could not be found.

Mr Singh agreed that the SOP was the elixir that gave life to the elections.

He agreed with Mr McKay that it is true that a number of Statements of Poll had to be rewritten by the Presiding Officers in collaboration with the Returning Officers.

He was aware that the law does not give the Deputy Returning Officers any authority to sign Statements of Poll or reconstruct Statements of Poll. But he noted that the Elections Commission had authority to make certain administrative laws.

Witness said that some Statements of Poll were placed in the ballot boxes and others were not.

He said that Statements of Poll should have been sent to him but pointed out that in relation to Region Four he was instructed that SOPs in that Region should go direct to the Elections Commission Command Centre instead.

Witness said that he was given those instructions on Elections Day between 10 p.m. and 11.30 p.m. by the Chairman Mr Doodnauth Singh.

He was in the process of receiving the SOPs when the instructions reached him.

Witness told Mr McKay that it was important that the Commission should get all the rewritten SOPs before they could calculate.

Pointing out that he was part and parcel of everything, witness said that he participated in the restructuring of Statements of Poll and declared that they had to rewrite about 100 SOPs.

Witness identified Statements of Poll, which he said were constructed from computer generated forms which were manufactured on Elections Day.

According to him, they were not manufactured because of a shortage, but to accommodate the disciplined services.

When shown SOP forms that included names other than persons in the disciplined services, Mr Singh explained that they were also used for the rewriting of missing and misplaced Statements of Poll.

Witness admitted seeing remarks made on three of the Elections Day-manufactured Statements of Poll to the effect, that in the haste to deliver the ballot boxes and results, the Presiding Officers might have forgotten to sign the documents.

The remarks were made by a Returning Officer of Region Four.

Witness, however, agreed with McKay that it was unlikely that the Presiding Officers could have forgotten to sign the particular Statements of Poll, since the particular Statements of Poll were manufactured on Polling Day and were not included among the Election materials that were forwarded to the Presiding Officers prior to the Elections.

He also agreed that the Presiding Officers could not have forgotten to sign something which they never had.

Witness admitted that he knew a Jaigobin Mohabir, a Deputy Returning Officer, who had signed five Statements of Poll purporting to authenticate five Presiding Officers.

Mr Singh said that he did not do anything about the report.

When asked why, he explained, "It was unlawful, but honest."

McKay laughingly remarked, "Oh, it was honestly unlawful."

The hearing in which Petitioner Esther Perreira is challenging the validity of the elections continues on Tuesday.

Since Mr McKay will not be available until Wednesday, his further cross-examination of Mr Stanley Singh will resume on that day.

Another witness will testify on Tuesday.