Announcing that result could not be achieved was not an option
- CEO tells elections petition hearing
March 28, 2000
Stanley Singh told the court yesterday that it never occurred to him to announce that a result could not be achieved in the 1997 elections because of lost documents.
The chief election officer (CEO) said under cross-examination by Senior Counsel Peter Britton that once he had gathered from the chairman and the commission the need to ascertain results, the rewriting of statements of poll (SOP) "was the only way" because "I was convinced at the time that taking such a position [opposing going forward with results] would not have mattered." The witness denied that he was at a meeting of the commission and political parties on December 16, where the option to stop the process was alive. Britton, who is representing petitioner Esther Perreira, observed that because the recreation of SOPs was not in compliance with the law, the "truth had turned its back that night."
The CEO admitted that once the commissioners realised that SOPs were missing "were confronted with a desperate and panicked situation." He said Senior Manager of operations, Ganga Persaud, was then given a free hand to recruit close to 15 persons to rewrite lost SOPs. But the witness could not say how many SOPs had been rewritten nor when the process had started. Britton said it was rather strange that Persaud had never mentioned the number of SOPs which had been rewritten.
Britton also noted that if the number of votes affected by the rewriting was more than 8,000 which translates into one parliamentary seat then this would have affected the distribution of seats. The CEO said his decision to photocopy SOPs on the night of December 15, was in part an attempt to protect himself and an effort to fulfil his mandate as CEO to arrive at a result. He said that at around 11 pm, Elections Commission Chairman, Doodnauth Singh, had unilaterally decided that all SOPs were to go directly to the command centre and "knowing that to disobey and advise against such an act would create more confusion, I decided on my own that I would photocopy and send over the SOPs and keep one copy."
"Protective measures?" asked a smiling Britton.
"I tried...," the witness grinned back.
As to a reason why the SOPs should go to the commission--which Britton called the "midnight switch"--a unilateral decision by the chairman and not the CEO as proscribed by law, the CEO said that the chairman had informed him that results from Region Four were coming in particularly slowly. "It was very difficult at the time to reason with the chairman," he said, adding that it was impossible by then to contact his presiding officers and have them change instructions.
The CEO said he instructed personnel to start photocopying the SOPs, but the chairman upon seeing the activity had instructed that it be stopped.
Britton started the morning by asking Singh about Arnold Deepoo, who was hired with foreign funds at a salary of US$1,500 per month--"five times my salary," lamented the CEO--to produce voter identification cards. Britton asked him if he not thought it strange that Deepoo was not required to report to him or that Deepoo had not issued a report of his activities. The CEO said he was not aware whether Deepoo had submitted a report. He said there were decisions made which he was not party to and that many commission meetings were held without his knowledge. Britton asked him to bring the terms of reference for Deepoo and three other consultants--Edgar Fraser, Roger Bart and Fr Tim Curtis--on the next court date.
The elections petition, being heard by Justice Claudette Singh, was brought by Perreira on the grounds that the elections process was so flawed as to not be able to accurately reflect the will of the people.