CEO admits rewriting poll statements

Stabroek News
March 17, 2000

Stanley Singh admitted at the elections petition hearing yesterday that he had helped in the rewriting of around 100 missing documents during the 1997 elections.

The chief election officer (CEO), on the witness stand for the third morning, said that some statements of poll (SOP) had been misplaced or were missing after they arrived at the Elections Commission building and it had become necessary to recreate them.

Continuing under cross-examination by Senior Counsel Rex McKay, the witness explained that with the results received by phone at the Command Centre "deputy returning officers were called in... and asked to use that data to rewrite SOPs and try as much as possible to have it certified by the presiding officer."

He could not say exactly how many SOPs had been rewritten "Let's say 100," he suggested to the court, which has become the most popular (and still free) entertainment in town. A considerable number of lawyers came to see the proceedings yesterday.

The CEO conceded there was no provision in the law for such rewriting. He also revealed that he had not been allowed to keep all the original SOPs. He had been instructed to send them directly to the commission's Command Centre housed in the neighbouring Demerara Distillers Ltd building.

"By whom?" asked McKay, representing respondent PNC leader Desmond Hoyte.

"By Doodnauth Singh... He said I must not keep them and instructed that SOPs, particularly from Region Four go direct to the command centre," the CEO replied, causing considerable murmuring in the court.

"What time was this?"

"Around 10.30 - 11 pm on December 15." But the witness said that he had not questioned why the chairman of the Elections Commission gave these directives as he had assumed it was because those would have been the only documents to reach the commission that night. Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, who is representing the CEO, was present in court yesterday.

McKay furnished three computer generated SOPs with the handwriting of Chief Returning Officer for Region Four, Henry Europe, that read: "The presiding officer in his haste to deliver the ballot boxes has forgotten to sign the SOP."

But the CEO had already testified that these computer generated SOPs were used only for the disciplined forces who had voted already and that another batch was produced on December 15, for the purpose of rewriting the misplaced documents. So he agreed with McKay's argument that as these were never sent to the regions for distribution, "the presiding officer could not have forgotten to sign because he never had the documents" and that Europe's statement had to be highly improbable.

McKay also noted that five SOPs had been signed by the same person-- J. Mohabir. The witness recalled that Mohabir had been a deputy returning officer for Region Four and admitted that these documents were among those which had been rewritten.

"Was this lawful?" asked McKay."

"It was unlawful... but rather honest," proffered the CEO, explaining that Mohabir had made it clear that he was the signatory.

"So it was honestly unlawful!" joked McKay.

A letter from Donna Harris, a supervisor at the computer section, dated January 14, and addressed to the CEO had brought up the issue of ballot box numbers that did not match the numbers on the list provided to the computer section.

"Who are the persons authorised to make switches of ballot boxes?" asked McKay.

The witness said no one was authorised and put down the 103 ballot boxes with non-matching numbers to "human error." McKay suggested that the whole system had "gone barmy". But when he tried to get him to concede that the discrepancies had affected the results, the CEO balked.

McKay asked again whether he thought the complaints about ballot boxes had affected the system, but when the witness started to answer, he cut him off, causing Doodnauth Singh to jump to his seat protesting that counsel had not allowed the witness to answer the question. McKay said he would give the witness a chance to explain and queried whether he had replied to Harris's letter. The CEO said he had and McKay urged him to find the letter and take it to court. The hearing continues on Tuesday at 9:30 am. McKay is unavailable that day but Senior Counsel Peter Britton will be cross-examining. The petition was brought by Esther Perreira on the grounds that the election process was so flawed as to be unable to accurately reflect the will of the people.