Bakker declares 1997 Region 10 elections free

Guyana Chronicle
June 3, 1999

RETURNING Officer for Region 10 (Upper Demerara/Berbice), Nelson Bakker declared yesterday that the 1997 general elections in that district were free, transparent and above board.

He was the first witness to testify on behalf of Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Stanley Singh, one of the respondents in the elections petition now being heard by Justice Claudette Singh.

The petitioner in this case is People's National Congress (PNC) supporter, Esther Perreira, of Lot 75 South Sophia, Greater Georgetown.

She is seeking to invalidate the outcome of the 1997 polls on the ground that the process was so flawed it cannot be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

Perreira has also named, as respondents, List Representatives of the contesting political parties, including President Jagan and PNC Leader Desmond Hoyte.

But, all of them, except Hamilton Green of A Good and Green Guyana (AGGG), have pledged to abide the ruling in this case.

Bakker, a lay preacher resident at Linden, said, apart from being Returning Officer at the last polls, he had worked in three previous elections.

He produced a report which he formulated in relation to Region 10 with 27,036 voters.

Bakker said he had received 23,159 IDs for distribution but returned 2,124.

He was given 96 ballot boxes and other materials for 96 polling stations and the personnel for 1997 were trained more intensely than previously.

Bakker said, in 1997, the PNC secured 14,802 votes and the PPP/C 3,440.

He had been involved in five separate polling exercises in Region 10 and they were conducted very peacefully in 1997, with no reports of violence or breach of the Election Law.

Bakker is involved with training for upcoming Local Government elections and is still employed by the Elections Commission, which has named him Registrar for Region 10.

He is to be cross-examined today.

Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, representing CEO Singh, opened his case with a presentation refuting the petitioner's allegations and previewed the evidence he hopes to adduce.

"We intend to establish that the Elections Commission was pro-active and, at all times, discussed the process with the relevant political parties as well as civil socity.

"We would show˙that the requirement of the Voter Identification Card was as a result of discussions with all political parties, as well as the Inter-Party Committee.

"We will attempt to show that the production and distribution of Voter ID cards was not discriminatory and that the Commission and its officers did everything that was humanely possible to distribute cards to as many persons who ought to have cards," said Singh, who maintains chairmanship of the Commission.

He said the security arrangements, unparalleled in history of balloting in Guyana, had been in place for the voting and the ballot boxes were under the supervision of both security personnel and election officials.

Senior Counsel Singh told the judge that, on Elections Day, there was no allegation whatsoever of any irregularity and the two maajor political parties had agents at almost all polling stations where some candidates were present, too.

Singh recalled that, for the purposes of appointing election officials, unique training and evaluation was done and every prospective functionary sat a written examination which was evaluated.

Not a single one was appointed without the approval of representatives on the Commission of both the People's Progressive Party (PPP) and the PNC.

Senior Counsel said the Commission had unanimously agreed to put in place a mechanism for the early declaration of results and the system was designed by Tim Curtis (a priest) and Roper Bart.

A special computer friendly form was created and Presiding Officers were required to prepare in excess of 10 copies of Statements of Poll (SOPs) and poll books which had to be written up and returned to the Chief Elections Officer.

Singh claimed no election official of the PNC and or any other political party, except the PPP, complained during the counting at the respective polling places.

"We will also seek to establish that the CARICOM Audit Commission was unbiased and took pains to satisfy every whim and fancy of the representative of the political parties during the audit," the lawyer said.

He said, for the duration, no political party presented to that Commission a single SOP and or tally sheet on which results differed from those declared by the Elections Commission and or by the auditors.

Neither did any political party point to at least one discrepancy between the ballots and the voter IDs.

Singh criticised Perreira's counsel for "making heavy weather" of Page 29 of the Audit Report, where it was recorded that a significant number of persons had voted without IDs, but failing to mention that an erratum was issued by the Chairman of the Audit team, correcting the statement.

Singh said all the political parties were invited to be represented at the counts and, once the reckoning at the polling stations were accepted, he would submit that thereafter, ballot boxes, ballots, locks, keys and transportation became meaningless.

According to him, none of the witnesses for the petitioner was able to produce evidence in Court to show that, at a single polling station, there was a different result from what was declared by the CEO.

Singh repeated his intention to call the 10 Returning Officers from the Regions and the 200 Presiding Officers, in addition to other officials, to negate the accusation by Perreira.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples