Elections Commission was without a secretary since 1996

by George Barclay
Guyana Chronicle
March 28, 2000

CHIEF Elections Officer (CEO) Mr Stanley Singh told a hearing of the Esther Perreira Elections Petition yesterday that the Elections Commission had been operating without a Secretary since Mr Lance Ferreira (Sr) resigned in 1996.

The CEO said the post was never advertised because the Commission and a few international agencies thought that the Chief Elections Officer should perform the duties of Secretary to the Commission.

But Stanley Singh added, "I was never asked to perform the duties of Secretary, and was never invited to attend all the meetings of the Elections Commission."

He said this while being cross-examined at the hearing of the petition, in which he is the number one respondent.

It was his sixth day of cross-examination, five of which days were conducted by Mr Rex McKay, Senior Counsel (SC) for Respondent Mr Desmond Hoyte. Yesterday, Mr Peter Britton, Senior Counsel, and lawyer for the petitioner Esther Perreira of South Sophia, conducted the cross-examination.

In answer to Mr Britton, Mr Singh said that he knew a gentleman by the name of Mr Arnold Depoo, who was appointed by the Elections Commission to advise in the management and production of the Voters Identification card system.

Witness said that although he is the Chief Elections Officer, he had nothing to do with the appointment.

Mr Depoo did not submit a report to him in relation to his involvement with the Voter ID cards and he was unaware whether he (Depoo) did send a report to the Commission.

It is possible that Mr Depoo could have submitted a report to the Commission without his knowledge, Singh said.

The Elections Commission had its own budget while the Chairman of the Elections Commission had more than one budget.

Witness said that Mr Depoo was one of the persons who received super salaries. He got something in the vicinity of US$1,500 per month.

In answer to further questions, witness said that Mr Depoo related to him but did not report to him.

Witness agreed that the Voter ID Card was an indispensable feature at the last elections but yet he did not consider it strange that Depoo made no report to him.

Asked why he did not find it strange, witness said that was due to the fact that his interpretation of the terms of his employment places him in a position of taking instructions or being micro-managed by the Elections Commission.

Although witness was cognisant of the Representation of the People Act, he nevertheless found the position satisfactory.

Witness went on to say that Depoo might have been a consultant with his office but he never saw his terms of contract.

Witness also never saw the contracts of Mr Farnum, Mr Bart and Father Kim Curtis, all of whom worked with the Commission under contracts.

However, Singh told Britton that once the final payments to those persons were made, the contracts would be at his office and it was possible that he would be able to search for the contracts and bring them to Court.

Witness said that he had not been invited to all the meetings of the Elections Commission.

According to him under normal circumstances the Secretary of the Elections Commission would invite him to meetings, but unfortunately, he said, there was no Secretary to the Commission.

The last Secretary to the Commission, Mr Lance Ferreira, (Sr) resigned in 1996 and has not been replaced.

Asked whether a Secretary was not appointed because funds were not available, Mr Singh explained:

"The Elections Commission and a few International Advisers are of the view that the position relating to the Secretary of the Elections Commission should be performed by the CEO."

In answer to Britton, Singh said that he was never allowed to carry out the functions of Secretary to the Elections Commission. Some of the functions of the Secretary of the Elections Commission were carried out by the Confidential Secretary of the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Ms Carmen Bovell.

From time to time, the Chairman himself would give him instructions that concerned directions from meetings of the Elections Commission.

Singh said that the Statute mandated him to compile and tabulate the results of the elections.

He knew that Ganga Persaud, his deputy, was involved in the rewriting of Statements of Poll (SOPs). He also knew that 15 persons from the administration were involved in the rewriting of Statements of Poll.

It was he who had given his deputy Mr Persaud verbal authority to begin the rewriting exercise.

The rewriting started on the morning of the l6th and would have been still in process when the declaration was made by the Chairman.

There was no section of the Representation of the People Act which provided for the rewriting of the SOP. Therefore, although it might have been expedient to hold the exercise, it was not provided for under the Law.

Witness also said that Mr Ganga Persaud did not tell him how many SOPs were rewritten.

Up to the day he was being cross-examined (yesterday), Singh said, he could not say how many votes emanated from the rewritten Statements of Poll. His calculation and distribution of seats depended on the total number of votes in the entire State.

He answered that if a total number of votes was extracted from those re-written Statements of Poll, the results could have been affected according to his addition.

He said that he had given Ganga Persaud a free hand to recruit staff to assist in the rewriting process although he knew that it was not in compliance with the Act.

Asked who was the person that instructed him to carry out the re-writing exercise, Mr Singh said that it was a general feeling that something should be done.

According to him, they had gathered from the Chairman of the Commission that they needed to ascertain the results even though it meant doing something that was not provided

for in the law.

Witness said that when he made the decision that night, he was faced with "a desperate and panic situation".

He told Britton that it never occurred to him that because his responsibilities were clearly defined under the Act he should have told the Chairman that he could not carry out his legal responsibilities because "This thing is in disarray."

Mr Singh went on to say while the law gives him the right to tabulate votes, the Elections Commission had the authority to instruct him.

Witness said that in order to save time, he was involved in the photocopying of Statements of Poll on Elections night after the Chairman had directed that documents from Region Four which were to be sent to the Command Centre should be forwarded to the Elections Commission.

The exercise was in progress when the Chairman turned up and instructed that it be discontinued.

Asked what prompted the decision to switch the flow of the SOPs from the Command Centre to the Chairman of the Elections Commission, Mr Singh said that the Chairman had explained that all the far off regions were coming in and the results of Region Four were coming in at the Centre at a particularly slow rate.

Mr Singh will be further cross-examined when the hearing resumes today.