Court hears untrained woman presided at polling station

by Sharief Khan
Guyana Chronicle
October 12, 1999

JUSTICE Claudette Singh yesterday heard that an untrained woman performed the duties of Presiding Officer at a polling station in Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) during the 1997 general elections.

Shawn Proctor said she was neither appointed nor trained as required by the Elections Commission but presided at St Paul's Primary School, Plaisance, East Coast Demerara, on December 15, 1997.

She said, prior to Elections Day, she was an employee of the Commission at Triumph, also on East Coast Demerara.

However, on the morning of Elections Day, she was taken to Plaisance by an official of the Commission and directed to assume the position of Presiding Officer in place of Claudette Smith who had already opened the place at 7.15 am.

Proctor said after she took over, Smith disappeared.

After the count of votes, she recorded the Statements of Poll (SOPs) and took them, along with the ballot box, to the Deputy Returning Officer, she told attorney-at-law Mr Hubert Rodney, one of the lawyers associated with Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh for respondent Chief Elections Officer Stanley Singh.

Cross-examined by other Senior Counsel Peter Britton, who is representing the petitioner, Esther Perreira, Proctor said nobody handed over anything to her at the polling station.

She had no chance of examining the ballot box nor did she hear anyone˙declare the results from her polling place that night.

Proctor said she was paid either in January or February but she could not say whether persons were˙called upon to sign SOPs before they were remunerated.

Looking at the Poll Book and recognising that her name was written˙on it, she declared:"I did not write my name on this book. I do not know how it got˙there."

Proctor identified two SOPs she signed although she knew˙she was not appointed a Presiding Officer.

Proctor was one of four Presiding Officers from Region Four to testify yesterday.

Another was Babsy Pierre, of Lot 3238 South Ruimveldt Park who worked at South Ruimveldt Park Primary School, in Georgetown.

She had applied for the posting and succeeded after passing an examination that followed a˙training programme.

Pierre said representatives of the major political parties contesting were present and none of them queried the votes she allocated them.

Under cross-examination by Britton, she confirmed that she prepared a Poll Book and identified two SOPs with her signature.

But she disclaimed another˙SOP from her polling place that was unsigned and on which someone else wrote.

Paula McKenzie, who was posted at the Lions Den in Festival City, North Ruimveldt, said she also authenticated documentation before submission to the Commission.

She˙certified two but said another two had been prepared by someone not known to her.

Carol Oudkerk, who was at English's residence, South Ruimveldt, recalled that Returning Officer Ganesh visited her home after the balloting.

But she told Britton she could remember hearing him say that if she she did not sign˙she would not be paid.

"I did not prepare either of these documents. I do not know who prepared them. I did not authorise anybody to prepare˙these two documents on my behalf," she answered when Britton showed her them.

She concurred, though, that she had put her signature on two SOPs which were prepared by her assistant.

On the one prepared by the latter, the total votes cast was stated as 306 and on the other 151. The numbers allotted to the different political parties at the same polling station varied.

In this matter, 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 accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

She has cited, among the other respondents, the List Representatives of the political parties that contested, including former Presidents Janet Jagan of the People's Progressive Party/Civic governing alliance and PNC Leader Desmond Hoyte.

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

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