Another Returning Officer witness at elections petition

Guyana Chronicle
June 16, 1999

A FRESH witness took the stand yesterday when the elections petition continued before Justice Claudette Singh.

Gurdat Persaud, Returning Officer for Region Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands) was sworn because his counterpart in Region 10 (Upper Demerara/Berbice), Nelson Bakker was not available to resume his testimony.

Bakker will be back in Court another time for re-examination by Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, who is representing respondent Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Stanley Singh.

On the resumption of the proceedings yesterday, other Senior Counsel Peter Britton, for the petitioner Esther Perreira, objected to the CEO being present in the courtroom.

The lawyer said the CEO is likely to be testifying and the rules in civil proceedings are different from those applicable in the criminal jurisdiction.

The respondent's counsel made no objection to the point raised and the CEO took his exit.

Persaud, of Lot 41 Leonora Housing Scheme, West Coast Demerara, said he was first appointed Registrar and was responsible for registering persons 14 years old and beyond that age in District Number Three.

Following the registration, a voters list was prepared and there was a period for claims and objections, after which a final voters list was produced for the Region and distributed to representatives of the various political parties.

Subsequently, he said Voter Identification (ID) Cards were produced and he uplifted them, having been tasked with their distribution in his district.

Subsequent to a series of training sessions, Persaud said he was named Returning Officer on September 1, 1997.

In that position, he made the preparations for holding the elections in his district, including uplifting balloting materials from the Elections Commission.

He said he prepared a report after the voting and submitted it to the CEO.

Witness said he was required to tabulate the results from Region Three and his unsigned compilation was tendered as an exhibit.

However, because Britton opposed the admission without it, Persaud affixed his signature to the document while still under oath.

The documentation indicated there were 62,495 registered electors in Region Three, that Persaud received 62,392 voter IDs and gave out 59,137.

According to him, 3,255 were returned to the Commission.

In his evidence-in-chief, Persaud recalled there were 247 polling stations in his domain but all the people chosen as Presiding Officers did not attend on Elections Day and others were selected in some cases.

Witness said he visited 20 polling places between Vreed-en-hoop and Parika that day and agents of the various contesting political parties were present at all.

No complaint was made to him during his visits and he was not in attendance for the counting but there had been requests for recounts at three places of poll - Lower Bonasika, Vergenoegen and La Grange and they were done in the presence of agents for the political parties.

Persaud said, after the recounting, 247 Statements of Poll (SOPs) were handed him and he made his tabulation on the basis of those submissions, which included 13 that were not signed.

He said the ballot boxes were returned to the Commission on December 17 and a record was made of each.

"Up to the time when I submitted my return to the CEO, I did not receive any complaint from any representative of any political party," Persaud maintained.

He disclosed that 56,917 voters exercised their franchise in Region Three.

Of that number, the People's Progressive Party/Civic polled 40,604 and the People's National Congress 13,817.

Under cross-examination by Britton, witness acknowledged that his compendium proved he had occasion to make corrections.

Persaud attributed the latter to mistakes by his deputy during transcription from the final listing.

Persaud said, after the polls, ballot boxes were kept in the offices of the Deputy Returning Officer and stored at places other than Police stations because it was thought that they, also guarded by policeman, provided greater security.

He said the decision to keep the containers in the Deputy Returning Officers' offices was taken jointly as he believed it would have been easier for the deputies to have access to those locations rather than the Police stations.

Persaud confirmed, as well, that he did not get the Presiding Officer to sign the recount as required by law.

The only persons who did so were himself and the PPP/Civic agent.

Persaud said other representatives of the different political parties were there for the count but refused to affix their signatures.

At that stage, Britton asked that the witness be made to tender certain SOPs, through the Court, to facilitate further cross-examination.

Perreira, of Lot 75 South Sophia, Greater Georgetown, wants Justice Singh to invalidate the outcome of the 1997 voting on the ground that the process was so flawed it cannot be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

In her quest, she has cited, among other List Representatives of contesting political parties, President Janet Jagan of the governing PPP/Civic alliance and PNC Leader Desmond Hoyte.

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

A page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples