New May 31 deadline for elections audit

By Michelle Elphage
Guyana Chronicle
April 15, 1998

A NEW May 31 deadline has been officially approved by CARICOM Chairman, Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr Keith Mitchell, for the completion of the first phase of the audit of the December 15 elections.

A spokesperson from the Prime Minister's office in Grenada told the Chronicle Dr Mitchell yesterday dispatched a letter to Chairman of the CARICOM Audit Commission, Mr Ulric Cross, informing him of the extension.

The source said the CARICOM Chairman was in favour of the extension request "because he understood the justification for it."

"He supports the extension because the audit started late", the source explained, adding, "It's quite logical."

The Chronicle understands that Mitchell wrote political parties last week seeking their approval for the new deadline.

It was based on this approval that the letter to Cross through the CARICOM Secretariat here was sent yesterday.

Cross and CARICOM Secretary General, Mr Edwin Carrington, recently met President Janet Jagan, People's National Congress (PNC) leader, Mr Desmond Hoyte and the leadership of the two other parliamentary parties explaining that an extension on the April 17 deadline was necessary.

All parties agreed to the extension saying they were in favour of a thorough audit rather than a hurried process.

An official of the Alliance For Guyana (AFG) yesterday confirmed the party had received a letter from Mitchell last week, noting that the new deadline was acceptable to the AFG. "We regarded it as agreeable", the spokesman said.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Reepu Daman Persaud, said the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) also agreed to the May 31 deadline. "We want it to be done properly", he emphasised yesterday.

The PNC, in an earlier statement, supported an extension noting it had "a vested interest" in the auditing of the elections. The party said it wants the team to have enough time to conduct a comprehensive and thorough audit of the elections and the electoral process.

Leader of The United Force (TUF), Mr Manzoor Nadir, had earlier too agreed to the audit extension, stressing "if we want to have the use of the audit, we first have to complete the audit."

The Bill to enable the audit was passed in Parliament late last month to address PNC claims that the elections were flawed.

Persaud had told the Chronicle it was not necessary to go to the National Assembly for the extension, noting that "a simple agreement" between the parties would be sufficient.

A total recount of the votes cast at the December poll is part of the seven-member CARICOM audit commission's scrutiny of the elections.

The Herdmanston Accord signed in January between President Jagan and Hoyte, allowed for the first phase of the audit to be completed by April 17.

At a press conference last month, the audit team had indicated its apprehension about whether it could have met the original deadline.

Meanwhile, the recount of the ballots by the audit team resumed at the Elections Commission office yesterday.

Cross last night told the Chronicle the team has completed recounting the Region Eight ballot boxes and will today start the check into the bags containing the voter identification cards for that district.

"We'll try to complete the bags tomorrow (today) and might well move on to (counting) another region", Cross said.

The Commission head said he returned to Guyana on Monday evening but up to last night all the members were not yet back at work. "I suspect everyone will be back by tomorrow (today)", Cross said.

Cross and two commissioners went home for the Easter vacation but the four remaining members of the team continued work out of their offices at the Le Meridien Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown.

Dr Dinanath Gajadhar, who was in charge in Cross's absence, explained that the team had to take a few days off from counting the ballots at the Elections Commission office, since the staff there wanted the holidays off.

At the close of count yesterday, 34 bags with voter ID cards for Region Eight remained to be counted.

The check of the district's ID cards will complete the count for the ballot boxes of all the regions in the first container opened at the Elections Commission.

So far, the audit commission has completed a recount of the votes cast in Regions One, Two, Seven and Eight, along with checks of the voter identification cards in three of the four districts.