Administrative bungling caused mismatched ballot box numbers
- CEO tells elections petition hearing

By William Walker
Stabroek News
March 29, 2000

Administrative bungling is how Stanley Singh described the 1997 elections confusion over ballot box numbers, during his testimony yesterday.

The chief election officer (CEO), who has been on the stand for seven days, was cross-examined further by Senior Counsel Peter Britton representing petitioner Esther Perreira.

Britton asked him if this "bungling" affected the computation of results. "Only in terms of time," replied the witness.

"So when the chairman declared the results of the election, the issue [of the misnumbered ballot boxes] was unresolved?" Britton asked.

"Yes," the CEO said.

Britton asked him why he had not addressed the concerns of Elections Commission employee Donna Harris contained in a January 15, 1998 letter. The CEO said that at the time there was the idea that a CARICOM audit would be coming up and "I think I can remember taking a position let's leave everything as is so that a true picture could be arrived at by an investigation."

But he did not inform Harris of his decision and "right up to this day that lady's complaint has not been addressed by your department," said Britton.

The witness conceded that there were cases of ballot boxes without seals or keys to open them but said that "as long as I can remember these things went on. You can't imagine what those boxes go through.... it did not surprise me."

Britton: "So it does not surprise you that one of your returning officers said he preferred to keep his ballot boxes rather than send them to the police station?"

The CEO referred to the manual that indicated that all ballot boxes should be forwarded to the CEO at the first available opportunity and that regional officers should transmit the results to the CEO by the fastest means possible.

Britton asked who had directed that ballot boxes from Region Four, specifically Georgetown, go direct to the Elections Commission.

The witness admitted that it was his unilateral decision and that he had not informed his security adviser Joe Harmon--something which in hindsight, he knew he should have done.

"Why did you change the plans?" asked Britton.

"Because I had been getting reports that ballot boxes were going by circuitous, roundabout routes." The witness, who has been constantly ridiculed by Senior Counsel Rex McKay and Britton for his use of "fancy" words took offence at Britton's subsequent laughter. "It gets me annoyed... I am here to talk the truth and if you want to hear the truth you should not be sniggering at me." He said it was only in Georgetown that he changed the plans as there were no reports of mismanagement of boxes from the East Coast and East Bank. He could not recall any specific report of boxes being carried to Alexander Village by a mysterious mini-bus. Nor could he recall the number of ballot boxes that took "circuitous routes."

Britton then turned to the distribution of voter identification cards quoting from the CEO's own report on the elections. He asked the CEO why distribution had started two weeks earlier (September 29) in Region Six a PPP stronghold than in Region Four a PNC stronghold (October 11). The witness who stated that he thought "the whole country is mixed" and that there were no strongholds, said that it was based on the inaccessibility of voters in regions such as six where transportation was a factor. When confronted with figures of final distribution that show Region Four having a lower percentage than Regions Five and Six Singh conceded that this was "on account of insufficient thoughtfulness applied to the process by my management."

The use of the computer friendly form for presiding officers to call in their results was an idea of Fr Tim Curtis, a consultant to the commission, just a few days before the elections. But the CEO said that he had not been able to get the forms widely distributed. "Would you agree these forms contributed to the bungling?" Britton asked.

Singh: "Any last minute change in a system will cause problems."

The hearing will continue at 1:30 pm today, before Justice Claudette Singh. The elections petition was brought by Perreira on the grounds that the 1997 election process was so flawed as to be unable to accurately reflect the will of the people.