Elections petition... Berbice Returning Officer says he received no complaints

Guyana Chronicle
July 1 , 1999

THE Returning Officer for Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) in the 1997 general elections, Jerome Gajadhar said yesterday that the agents for contesting political parties seemed satisfied after the count on December 15.

None of them, from either the People's Progressive Party/Civic or the People's National Congress (PNC), made any complaint to him, he told Justice Claudette Singh, who is adjudicating the current elections petition.

Gajadhar, who began testifying yesterday after his counterpart for Region Five (Mahaica/Berbice), Joseph Gilgeous, was further cross-examined, will continue his evidence tomorrow.

Gajadhar, like the other Returning Officers who preceded him, presented a copy of his compilation on the balloting in his Region which was also forwarded to the Commission.

Britton did not object to it being tendered but observed that, while part one was signed, the second section had no signature.

Gajadhar said there were 302 polling stations in his district and, prior to the voting, he had uplifted election materials, including 382 ballot boxes, from the Elections Commission.

There were 79,133 electors but he received 78,188 voter identification (ID) cards from the Commission.

Gajadhar said 75,038 of the tags were distributed at the various polling centres and the rest returned to the Commission.

On Polling Day, witness said he visited 40 places of poll between Crabwood Creek, Corentyne and Mara, Berbice River, but, before then, he had discussions with the Commandant of the Police Division who had invited him and the Returning Officers to discuss the security of ballot boxes and personnel and where the containers should be kept.

The locations for storing were identified and met with the agreement of all concerned, agents of the respective political parties among them.

After the close of the poll, Gajadhar said he collected copies of the SOPs and later submitted them to the CEO.

The SOPs were the source for his composition and, in some instances, information on the Deputy Returning Officers broad sheet.

Witness said the PPP/Civic polled 52,205 and the 17,183 in Region Six.

The proceedings have been adjourned to tomorrow to allow Senior Counsel Peter Britton, for the petitioner Esther Perreira, an opportunity of studying Gajadhar's exhaustive documentation on which the author would be cross-examined.

Gilgeous kept a promise, previously made to Britton, by producing the rough notes from which he extracted divisional polling station numbers that he included in his statistical data summary.

Noting that the original copy sent to the Commission did not have the figures, Britton asked the witness why he found it necessary to insert them on the computer printout.

"When I looked at the document, I realised that the divisional numbers were not there and, in an effort to get the added information, I collected my rough notes and decided to put the numbers there," Gilgeous answered.

However, he admitted to the lawyer that he could not tell from his report the polling places from which had come ballot boxes with different numbers on the covers.

Gilgeous said he was not familiar with the `Manual for Returning Officers' but when shown it, he agreed it stipulated that Statements of Poll (SOPs) were not to be enclosed in those boxes and that the Presiding Officers were the persons to announce the results after the counting.

Witness also concurred that the guide says Presiding Officers are the persons responsible for storage of the ballots.

He was not in a position to state whether or not the Presiding Officers in his district declared the votes because he was not present for the reckoning.

Gilgeous said his attestation that the Presiding Officers carried out their duties was based on what he was informed by his deputies.

Although shown a copy of the relevant Act by Britton, Gilgeous denied knowledge that the boxes should be lodged at the nearest Police station and not at the offices of deputies.

The witness said at no time, during the extensive training course for Returning Officers, was that stipulation drawn to his attention and he did not know it was his duty to lodge the boxes at the nearest station in his district.

Re-examined by other Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, who is appearing for respondent Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Stanley Singh, witness explained that he had four Deputy Returning Officers.

The Presiding Officers handed over all the documents to the deputies and the latter, subsequently, passed them on to him, Gilgeous recalled, addding that he took the items to the Commission.

"After the Poll, I know that the law provides for the ballot boxes to remain 48 hours in the district for the purpose of a recount if requested.

"I know that about 13 ballot boxes had numbers on their covers which did not correspond to the boxes.

"However, each of the ballot boxes had numbers which corresponded with the respective polling stations and divisional numbers.

"The procedure at the close of polls was to count the votes in the presence of the representatives of the political parties," were more answers Gilgeous gave the lawyer Singh.

Gilgeous said, apart from one challenge, he had received no complaint from the agents of political parties on Elections Day.

The lone challenger was Cummings, a woman PNC agent at Hopetown Nursery School, Gilgeous disclosed.

He said the complainant commented it was strange that, in a PNC stronghold, the PPP/Civic had secured considerably more votes than the PNC.

Witness said, up to yesterday, no representative of the PNC, who was present at the count and verified the votes counted, had produced to him any statement contending the results in their possession differed from those declared at the location.

Perreira, a PNC supporter of Lot 75 South Sophia, Greater Georgetown, is challenging the validity of the 1997 elections on the ground that the process was so flawed the outcome cannot be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

She has cited, also as respondents, President Janet Jagan of the governing PPP/Civic alliance and PNC Leader Desmond Hoyte amongst the List Representatives of political parties which contested the elections.

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

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples