McKay questions CEO's predictions

Stabroek News
March 24, 2000

Stanley Singh was hailed yesterday as the new Nostradamus, for predicting the winner of the 1997 elections with only half of the votes counted.

Rex McKay, in further cross-examination at the elections petition hearing, suggested to the chief election officer (CEO), "for your prediction to be fulfilled... certain things had to be done to put it in alignment."

The witness agreed: "Probably, but not by me." His counsel Doodnauth Singh, SC, was absent.

McKay referred to the witness's report on the elections, "that the verification process was implemented to deal with late SOPs." However, the witness testified that all statements of poll (SOP) from Region Four were submitted by 4.30 am on the day after the elections by Chief Returning Officer for the region, Henry Europe, and as such were not late. He admitted after much encouragement from McKay that the report's statement "was not consistent but..." McKay cut him off, "No buts and ifs, man! That's for Mr [Hubert] Rodney," referring to the opportunity for him to explain during re-examination.

McKay went on: "Do you recall the chairman [of the Elections Commission] going on television on the afternoon of [December] 17th saying that not all the SOPs from Region Four had been collected and making some sarcastic remark about all the runners having gone to the Olympics?"

The witness replied that the SOPs were perhaps not in the chairman's possession, but had been handed in to the commission.

"So you were hiding documents from the chairman?" joked McKay.

McKay: "When were the results for Region Four calculated?"

The CEO: "As my memory goes results were given out other than the ones I was preparing."

McKay: "Oh, we've gone into an even deeper hole!"

The CEO: "I think it's public knowledge."

McKay: "You agree that you were not the star on TV during the elections."

The CEO: "No I was too busy to even watch."

McKay: "So when did you complete results for Region Four?"

The CEO: "December 20th."

The witness could not cite any provision in the law that allowed for the verification process. McKay: "So tell me, was the verification process unlawful?"

The CEO: "It was an administrative process not provided by the law."

McKay: "So it is unlawful?"

The CEO: "Yes sir."

McKay read from Singh's report: "While this process was in progress the CEO after assessment of results already in, on Friday December 19, made a preliminary declaration of results."

The witness replied that this was an error in that he was not using the "unlawful" process to determine the results. But McKay said, "I don't think it's an error... It is a fact that the verification process was being used to arrive at the results of the election." The witness did not agree having previously said that he arrived at a result from statements handed to him by his returning officers including rewritten SOPs.

McKay countered: "But you do agree with the Electoral Assistance Bureau [EAB] that at the time of the December 19th declaration less than half the votes had been verified? " "Yes," he replied.

McKay told the CEO, as he waved his report in the air, "When you write these things they come back to bite you!"

McKay asked if there was any provision for anyone to rewrite SOPs, to which the witness replied in the negative. McKay went on to read from the CARICOM Audit Report as to how the verification process was conducted: "All parties were invited to compare tally sheets and SOPs and agreed on and confirmed results with EAB used as a check... photocopies were made and in the pressure to announce the results of Region Four originals were misplaced."

The witness confirmed that some of these were then rewritten.

McKay spent the rest of the morning grilling the CEO about the handling of ballot boxes after the close of poll and cited the CARICOM report which questioned the integrity of some of the ballot boxes. McKay started by asking if the manuals issued to returning officers and presiding officers stated explicitly the provisions of the law that ballot boxes should be handed first to the returning officer until 12 pm the day after the elections and then sent to the nearest police station. The witness said they did not.

"Why not?" McKay asked and was treated to a long explanation about past elections practices.

McKay tried again: "Was it more important that officials should remove all notices and leave the surroundings of polling stations neat and clean as you wrote in the manuals?... Did you not instruct them to take the boxes to the Elections Commission as soon as possible?"

"Yes," he replied.

McKay: "Don't you trust the police?" Singh said he did.

"So you were perpetuating a wrong [by not having them handed over]?" McKay asked.

"Yes," he replied. "Until the wrong was seen to be right."

The CEO said that the ballot boxes, once in the hands of the returning officers, needed to go through a curing process.

"Curing process? What, are they hams?" asked a mystified McKay.

McKay then turned to the testimony of a security adviser to the commission who had noted that contrary to previous instructions ballot boxes from Region Four were not going to the Region Four office on Carmichael Street. The CEO admitted he had given instructions at 8 pm on December 15, for the boxes to go to the Elections Commission instead because "there was a slight bit of confusion going on" at the office and he thought the containers at the commission building to be more secure.

McKay attempted to tie the ballots mentioned in Donna Harris' letter of January 15, whose numbers did not agree with those at the Elections Commission, with evidence of unstamped and uncreased ballots, but the witness was in no position to confirm or deny that such ballots were in the disputed boxes.

McKay also read from the CARICOM report that apparently uncreased ballots showed no particular tendency to any political party and in some cases were the result of ballots unfolding and smoothing out in the time they were deposited to the time the boxes were opened.

McKay informed Justice Claudette Singh that he would have about one hour more of cross-examination for the CEO next week.

The election petition is being brought by Esther Perreira on the grounds that the 1997 elections process was so flawed as to be unable to accurately reflect the will of the people.