Region Eight Returning Officer reports no complaints

Guyana Chronicle
July 15, 1999

RETURNING Officer in Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni), Francis Downer said yesterday that a breakdown of communication and inadequate transport prevented him from visiting more polling stations during the 1997 general elections.

Under cross-examination before Justice Claudette Singh in the current elections petition, he reported visiting 13 on Polling Day and meeting agents and other representatives of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) and the People's National Congress (PNC), among others.

Downer told Senior Counsel Peter Britton, who is representing the petitioner, Esther Perreira, that, at some of the places, he met officials of the Electoral Asistance Bureau (EAB) and the Commonwealth observer team.

But no one requested any recount or made complaints to him, the witness said.

He knew the Returning Officers' Manual stipulates that ballot boxes should be lodged at the nearest Police stations but some were stored elsewhere, such as at his office, because he thought they were safer there.

In every case, the crates were guarded by Police, Downer assured.

He acknowledged declaring only some results but could give no reason why he did not announce the rest.

However, he admitted signing a Statement of Poll (SOP), which should only be done by the Presiding Officer "to give it authenticity."

Downer, who tendered copies of the report he submitted to the Elections Commission after the balloting, agreed that certain aspects of it differed from the original handwritten document and a computer printout of the typewtitten version.

The witness said 5,544 persons were registered in Region Eight and he collected 4,850 voter identification cards, for which distribution he was responsible.

He said 4,125 were distributed and 725 returned to the source but he was aware of people, though not how many, who were disenfranchised because they could not be located to have their photographs taken and complete registration.

Downer also informed Britton of the 36 polling places in Region Eight, three sub-divisions, 4,879 voters and three Deputy Returning Officers.

Witness said security arrangements ensured that, following the voting, the ballot boxes were, at all times, under strong Police protection.

Earlier, in answer to Ms Jeanenime Munroe, junior associate of Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, for respondent Chief Elections Officer Stanley Singh, Downer said he reported to the Commission on the basis of SOPs handed him after the ballots were cast.

He will be further cross-examined today.

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

In her quest, she has named, as respondents amongst the List Representatives of political parties which contested, President Janet Jagan of the governing PPP/Civic alliance and PNC Leader Desmond Hoyte.

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

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