Presiding Officer says she may have forgotten to sign Statement of Poll

Guyana Chronicle
October 25, 1999

FELICIA Edwards a Presiding Officer at Ascension Community High School for the 1997 general elections admitted yesterday that she might have forgotten to sign the Statement of Poll (SOP) certifying the vote count.

But, when she sought to give the assurance that she did not deliberately fail to sign, Senior Counsel Peter Britton, representing the petitioner Esther Perreira in the elections petition before Justice Claudette Singh, declared: "Nothing was deliberate by the Guyana Elections Commission."

Edwards was another of the Presiding Officers (POs) called to rebut the evidence on which Perreira is challenging the results of the balloting.

Led by other attorney-at-law Ms Jean Munroe, one of the lawyers on the other side, Edwards recalled that, at the end of polling on Elections Day, she counted the ballots and allocated them to the respective contesting political parties.

No one challenged the accuracy of the count at her polling station and she gave the SOP for the Commission to a "tall, dark-skinned woman" she did not know.

The individual had arrived in a motor vehicle to collect election materials.

Cross-examined by Britton, who showed her an unsigned SOP, Edwards acknowledged that the writing on it was hers but denied putting a date on the document.

It was at that stage she said: "I may have failed to sign the document but it was not deliberate."

Answering more questions, witness said she was told during pre-elections training sessions that it was her duty to affix her signature to all SOPs.

She had gone to East Ruimveldt Secondary School that night but did not hear anybody declare the results from her polling station at that centre.

Edwards said, before the balloting, she had been given a code number to use for transmission of results but, on voting day, she did not follow the instruction.

One more PO testifying yesterday was Deborah Hutson, who worked at the Old Mosque in Alexander Village, Greater Georgetown, although her appointment was not by way of letter.

At the end of the day, she completed the SOPs and gave them to "somebody" from the Commission, whom she, too, did not know.

She told Britton the person was in a mini-bus that she never saw before and she could not remember if the courier tendered an identification card to her.

There were about five persons in the bus and other POs were trying to get their ballot boxes and related materials into it.

Though, as a trainee, she was told she must accompany her ballot box, it turned out that she could not tell where it went.

She said, 15 minutes before the polls closed, Foreign Minister Clement Rohee was at her location but she was unable to say if he was one of the people in the bus.

Edwards agreed that, according to a document shown her in Court, her polling station is recorded as having been manned by a different PO.

Looking at another exhibit, the witness confirmed that she wrote on it but pointed to certain changes which she did not make, including the erasing of the word "none" and the insertion of figure 9.

Edwards said she authorised no one to prepare the documentation. She had written `General' on the SOP but not `Regional'.

In these proceedings, Perreira, a People's National Congress (PNC) supporter of Lot 75 South Sophia, is questioning the validity of the 1997 electoral process, saying it was so flawed the outcome cannot be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

She has named, as respondents, Chief Elections Officer Stanley Singh and the List Representatives of the political parties that contested, including former Presidents Janet Jagan, of the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic alliance and PNC Leader Desmond Hoyte.

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

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