Presiding Officer disclaims signature

Guyana Chronicle
October 27, 1999

DOROTHY Semple, a Presiding Officer (PO) in Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) for the 1997 general elections said yesterday it was possible that someone forged her signature on the Statements of Poll (SOPs) on which the results were recorded.

She was one of five POs called yesterday to give rebuttal evidence in the elections petition before Justice Claudette Singh.

The witness said the writings and the signatures on two SOPs originating from the Elections Commission could not be hers and concurred with Mr Raphael Trotman, one of the lawyers for the petitioner Esther Perreira, that the effect could be a forgery.

People's National Congress (PNC) Leader Desmond Hoyte, himself a respondent in the litigation as List Representative of his party, was at the Bar Table when Semple testified.

The latter said she could not remember how many training sessions she attended but recognised her signature in a Poll Book in which she had written on Elections Day.

She said, at the close of poll, she counted the ballots and allocated them to the respective contesting political parties.

Answering Ms Jean Munroe, who is associated with Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh for respondent Chief Elections Officer Stanley Singh, Semple said she did record the votes on SOPs that day but cannot recall how many she had prepared.

According to Semple, she had put one copy in an envelope and placed it in a ballot box which was sealed and forwarded to the Commission.

Cross-examined by Trotman, witness, who was posted at Grove Primary School, East Bank Demerara, said she was aware of some confusion over the opening of ballot boxes at that polling place on Elections Night.

She acknowledged her signature on an SOP but disclaimed the other writing on the document, adding, though, that she could not recall whether she had authorised someone else to write on her behalf.

Semple agreed that no one could have made a declaration from an SOP without opening a ballot box and she did not doubt that the boxes used for the 1997 balloting were opened for the first time in April 1998 to afford the (CARICOM) Audit Commission access into them.

She admitted to Trotman that, before going to Court, she was interviewed by Albert Henry of the Elections Commission in relation to the case.

After looking at two SOPs, the witness maintained that the autograph on the general SOPs was not hers and, pointing to a difference between `D. Singh' in the Poll Book and `D. Singh' on the SOPs, she raised the possibility of forgery.

Semple rejected one more SOP which was unsigned.

Bibi Shaffie, who was also a PO on East Bank Demerara, remembered transmitting the results from her polling station to the Elections Commission by telephone.

In her evidence-in-chief, she said she had personally compiled her Poll Book but, on looking at the signature Sharon Bibi in it, she said: "I am now saying that the Poll Book was prepared by the Poll Clerk."

She said the Poll Clerk did not make a mistake as her name was also Mrs Sharon Bibi.

Responding to a suggestion that she was one of the persons who had performed as a PO without a letter of appointment, Shaffie said she was appointed with the name Sharon for the particular polling place.

She refuted a proposition by Trotman that she had used the certificate of employment of another PO named Sharon, without authority, in order to regularise herself.

Trotman wanted to know, if the Elections Commission knew her by one name only, why should they want to issue her an employment certificate in another and the witness said she has been using Shaffie all her life and had no documentation naming her Sharon.

Verena Layne, the PO who was at Grove Primary, as well, said she knew something went wrong there in relation to the opening of ballot boxes on the night of December 15, 1997.

She gave two versions as to what she did with her SOPs on that date.

First she said she had put them in sealed ballot boxes but, later, after being told the boxes were not opened until April 1998 by the auditors, she said she had handed them over to the Deputy Returning Officer.

PO Sharon Roach accepted as hers two SOPs with varying signatures.

The general SOP was signed S. Roach while the regional was authenticated "R. Roach for Presiding Officer".

After, at Trotman's request, a specimen signature of the witness was taken and tendered as an exhibit of the Court, Roach accepted that the three signings appeared to differ.

Yet she did not agree with the lawyer that someone else prepared the certificates and signed on her behalf.

The other PO who gave evidence yesterday, Vereen Bryan was not cross-examined.

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

Former President Janet Jagan, who was List Representative of the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic alliance, is also a respondent in the proceedings which continue today.

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