Court hears from more unexpectedly named Presiding Officers

Guyana Chronicle
October 28, 1999

MORE witnesses who were unexpectedly named Presiding Officers (POs) in Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) for the 1997 voting testified yesterday when Justice Claudette Singh resumed the elections petition hearing.

One of them, Erica Harry said her substantive post was Poll Clerk. She was not appointed a PO, Assistant PO (APO) or anything else.

She said she had applied to be a Poll Clerk not a PO or APO and, when asked how she came to perform as PO, she said:"It just happened."

Harry said the day before the balloting she was among those summoned for the selection of persons to work at polling stations.

Woman Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) London was there and she enquired of her what would be her role but the offiocial did not answer. Instead she put her in a group, Harry said.

The witness said, after the session, dissatisfied and disappointed, she was on her way home the Sunday night when the Secretary to the DRO told her she was needed back in the office, as she would have to perform as PO at Smith's Primary School (in Hadfield Street, Georgetown).

Harry said she assumed the position on Elections Day and, although the DRO was present, the latter gave her no instructions.

The witness said she collected elections materials the night before but did not sign, just accepted them.

Under cross-examination by Senior Counsel Peter Britton, for the petitioner Esther Perreira, Harry could not remember writing in a Poll Book but was certain she prepared Statements of Poll (SOPs).

She said she gave a copy to DRO London, sealed her ballot box that night and forwarded it to the Elections Commission.

Shown a Court exhibit, Harry confirmed that the absent PO she replaced was Shondell Britton.

Harry answered the lawyer Britton that she had prepared separate SOPs for the `General' and `Regional' elections and she identified her signature on an SOP but denied that the document which reflected results in both categories on a single sheet was her preparation.

"This is my signature but I did not draw a line on the document as shown here. The figures were not recorded by me. I do not know who is responsible. Neither I did authorise anyone to write those things," she maintained.

Harry said she, too, prior to attending Court yesterday, visited the Commission and was interviewed by Albert Henry who showed her a one-sheet SOP that she disclaimed.

"When I saw the document, I smiled with surprise. I told him that the signature was mine but the figures were not," the witness said about the interview with Henry.

She said he declared it was not a matter for him but for the Court.

Felicia Hoppie, who was PO at Lodge Health Centre, in the city as well, after Candacey David failed to show, recalled preparing the necessary SOPs.

One more PO, Sandra Sargeant, who officiated at another city polling place, Enterprise Primary School in Lodge, was introduced by other attorney-at-law Mr Hubert Rodney, one of the lawyers representing respondent Chief Elections Officer Stanley Singh.

She said part of her duties on Elections Day was to record in a Poll Book and prepare SOPs.

Representatives of the different contesting political parties witnessed the count and none of them questioned its accurancy.

Sargeant said she compiled SOPs, signed them and handed them to the DRO.

Cross-examined by Britton, she said she was an APO who performed as PO because the person named, Unita Johnson did not attend.

The other PO giving evidence yesterday was Barbara Gomes, who was in charge at a Princes Street polling place.

Perreira, who put in a personal appearance during yesterday's proceedings to sign a legal document, is challenging the outcome of the 1997 polls.

The People's National Congress (PNC) supporter, of Lot 75 South Sophia, Greater Georgetown, is alleging that the process was so flawed it cannot be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

In her quest, she has named, as respondents, too, 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.

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