Witness tells of broadcast changing movement of ballots

Guyana Chronicle
November 16, 1999

A DEPUTY Returning Officer (DRO) in Georgetown for the 1997 voting said yesterday that he heeded a radio broadcast on the morning of Elections Day and took the ballot boxes to the Elections Commission's instead of the Returning Officer's office.

The witness, Michael Smith, who was in charge of a sub-district with 53 polling stations, made the revelation while testifying before Justice Claudette Singh in the ongoing elections petition.

Under cross-examination by Senior Counsel Peter Britton, representing the petitioner Esther Perreira, Smith said, at the training sessions prior to the balloting, he was told the boxes should have been sent to the Returning Officer's office.

But those instructions were changed by a message he heard on the early morning of December 15, 1997.

Witness could not recognise the voice but complied with the new instructions because he assumed they were from the Commission.

Earlier, during evidence-in-chief, Smith told Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, representing respondent Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Stanley Singh, that he visited his 53 polling places on Elections Day and agents of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) and the People's National Congress (PNC) were there.

However, the witness said none of those representatives made any complaint to him, including about the allocation of votes after the count.

Smith said the different Presiding Officers (POs) handed over their elections materials to him that evening and these were transported, later that night, to the Commission's office.

Witness said, after receiving envelopes with the Statements of Poll (SOPs) the same night, he attempted to relay the results to the Commission but was unable to do so because the telephone was continuously engaged.

Smith tendered a summary which he said he had prepared from the SOPs he collected at the Commission's Command Centre.

The documentation said the PNC had secured 9,960 votes and the PPP/C 2,209 but the witness could not remember whether the SOPs, from which he extracted the figures, were all signed by the POs.

He admitted not having any means of testing the accuracy of what was recorded.

Another DRO in Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica), Jaigobin Mohabir was in charge of the sub-district Mon Repos/Enterprise, East Coast Demerara, with 76 polling stations.

He said, at the close of poll and following the count, the ballot boxes, escorted by ranks from Vigilance Police Station, were taken to his office and, at 9.30 o'clock the following morning, to the Commission where they were checked and stored in a container.

Mohabir said he, subsequently, prepared the summary which he tendered, showing that the PNC obtained 5,043 votes compared to 12,371 for the PPP/C.

The witness concurred with Britton that, although he received the letter in July 1997, his appointment never appeared in the Official Gazette.

Questioned about the validity of his summary, Mohabir agreed he did not check the SOPs to ascertain if the persons who signed them were in fact POs nor did he seek to verify their contents as there was no way doing so.

The witness acknowledged that, while being trained, he was instructed that that POs must sign the SOPs.

About two weeks before Elections Day, Returning Officer Henry Europe had directed that the ballots must be stored at his office until the next day.

Mohabir said he submitted all 76 SOPs he received to Europe and they were inclusive of national and regional results.

Answering questions by attorney-at-law Mr Saphier Husain, appearing on his own behalf as List Representative of National Independent Party (NIP), the witness said he did not know why a summary was required of him because the SOPs contained all the requested data.

In these proceedings continuing today, Perreira, a PNC supporter of Lot 75 South Sophia, Greater Georgetown, is challenging the legality 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 named, also as respondents, former Presidents Desmond Hoyte and Janet Jagan among the other List Representatives of political parties which contested.

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