CARICOM audit report regrettably vague
- Britton

Stabroek News
July 27, 2000

Senior Counsel Peter Britton representing the petitioner Esther Perreira in the elections petition case continued with his closing address before Judge Claudette Singh yesterday.

He referred to the CARICOM Audit Commission's (CAC) report which mentions the situation of statements of poll (SOP) on a number of occasions.

In the last paragraph on page 19, the CAC stated that there were problems in a few cases with distinguishing between national and regional SOPs and it was pointed out that a number of SOPs were unsigned and the reasons for this departure needed more examination. Britton said it was regrettable that the CAC had been so vague and should have put a number to those unsigned SOPs.

Page 42 paragraph five made reference to the legal requirement of SOPs and the difficulty presented by the introduction of computer friendly forms and that this had introduced a potential for errors. Britton said it was an illegality and "expedience cannot supplant the law ... the motives might be good but if it transgresses the law, the law must prevail." The report continued that the regional and national forms were easy to confuse. Britton concluded that this strengthened the petitioner's case that the results were affected. It was for this reason that Stanley Singh, the chief election officer, said the situation with SOPs was unclear. Hence the results were bound to be affected. Britton said the petitioner was not witch hunting or attempting to pillory persons who made errors, except those who changed votes who had already been named.

The CAC report, page 43, paragraph four, stated that the manual system was the one most in keeping with the requirements of the law as it centred on SOPs to be declared by returning officers and the CEO. "Not the chairman," said Britton, "and for the CEO to stand idly by and allow the Chairman Doodnauth Singh to handle the SOP would have been a breach of the law. Page 47, paragraph 43, states that the majority of SOPs in Regions Four and Six were originals. Britton said the CAC missed an opportunity to give more information; a majority could be just over half. Page 52 spoke of the need to change the laws in respect to SOPs and voter identification cards and the deficiencies of Form 23 `A'. "Then the respondent stands and tells us how we had the best elections." Britton said the commission had from 1994 to address the deficiencies but nothing was done, including the absence of clear wording to differentiate between the regional and national forms. The CAC report also queried the absence of signatures and concluded that this was because of lack of clear wording. Britton said, "I don't know this to be true... The manuals dealt with this provision and state clearly that Form 23 `A' must be signed."

According to Britton the report goes on to describe the hasty introduction of a computer friendly form as playing a significant part in the non-observance of the law and the substantial disrespect of the law regarding SOPs.

Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh representing the CEO had gone on about the amount of money spent but Britton said this was irrelevant. The training must have been bad, Britton said.

It was not the petitioner's responsibility to explain the reasons for breach of the statutory provision but just to show the extent of the breach of the provision. The breaches were substantial and did affect the results, Britton said.

Meanwhile, Britton said that his learned friend Doodnauth Singh had failed to confront the evidence frontally and only made passing comments on the SOPs and of the fact that no objections were made at the polling stations. He had claimed that no objections were raised to the results, but Britton said the petitioner had been challenging the SOPs from the beginning and the non-compliance of the laws in those not signed and those downright forged. "If I say it's a forgery I am challenging it to the root."

The respondent had attempted to shift the argument away from legality to numbers, he said, and the petitioner had always stayed away from the numbers game. "We are not taking away votes but are saying that the votes declared were invalid."

Britton said in his address Doodnauth Singh had referred to himself in the third person as the "Chairman did this or did that...." and this revealed the dichotomy of him representing himself, Britton said.

Doodnauth Singh had referred to countries in Latin America that burnt their ballot boxes after polling and relied on SOPs. Britton said this showed that Singh acknowledged the "sine qua non" authority of SOPs.

Britton will continue tomorrow.

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