Witness with vision recommends penalties for future polls

Guyana Chronicle
July 28, 1999

RETURNING Officer in Region One (Barima/Waini) for the 1997 balloting, Lloyd Baharally said yesterday he has made certain recommendations because of his vision that elections in the future might not be so transparent.

But he maintained, under cross-examination at the elections petition hearing, that the voting in 1997 was flawless.

Baharally, answering Senior Counsel Peter Britton, for the petitioner Esther Perreira, told Justice Claudette Singh he proposed, in his report to the Elections Commission, promulgation of laws to deal effectively with fraudulent and corrupt practices.

The witness was being questioned on the aspect of his compilation which read:"Laws should be enacted to severely penalise all election officials by both a prison term and a fine for any willful act of malpractices and corruption that would constitute a bias or fraud from the commencement of registration to the election proper."

Baharally said, because of the vastness of his Region, he spent Elections Day at Mabaruma (North West District).

He said, apart of what transpired at Mabaruma, everything that appeared in his composition was based on information passed to him by his deputies and Presiding Officers.

Baharally said he and the other officials mentioned "sat down and wrote the report together" although he acknowledged that the only section signed by him was the page dealing with statistics.

He did not have any difficulty reconciling the numbers in the ballot boxes.

However, in many polling stations, the Voter Identification (ID) Cards produced exceeded the number of electors by one or two.

For instance, the electors at St Anthony's Primary, Mabaruma, totalled 154 while the IDs numbered 156.

Baharally's compendium lamented poor quality work

by many Divisional Registrars and said some of the forms were not properly completed and had to be returned for editing.

The Returning Officer said, though it was optional for polling agents at the 66 voting places to put their signatures on Statements of Poll (SOPs), only two of them did so.

Baharally recalled two instances in which a similar number of persons were denied the right to vote when their IDs were challenged.

He said, after the incidents were brought to his attention, he sent the complainants to the respective Presiding Officers with instructions that the cards be shown to all the polling agents in the stations concerned for those functionaries to make the decisions.

Baharally said, when he arrived at Mabaruma, he realised there was need for a translator to inform people about the electoral system but he cannot remember which method he employed.

Britton will continue to cross-examine Baharally today when the latter is expected to produce a voters list indicating how many polling places were at Mabaruma.

Replying to other attorney-at-law Mr Saphier Husain, appearing for himself as respondent List Representative of National Independent Party (NIP), Baharally said four of the 66 polling stations had electricity on Elections Day and the rest operated with gas lamps and lanterns.

Representatives of Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB), Organbisation of American States (OAS) and Commonwealth observers visited some.

Husain put it to the witness that the use of the IDs was unconstitutional but Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, for respondent Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Stanley Singh, interrupted to say:"The witness cannot answer that ... this is a legal question."

Husain re-phrased his question and asked Baharally whether `No ID card, No Vote' was a genuine requirement but Singh intervened again, saying:"It was a genuine requirement according to the law of the legislature. Whether that law was unconstitutional is a different matter."

In this case, Perreira, a People's National Congress (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 accuratelty reflect the will of the electorate.

She has named President Janet Jagan of the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic alliance and PNC Leader Desmond Hoyte, as respondents, too, among the List Representatives of political parties that contested.

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

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