Region Eight's returning officer tenders report - in election petition case
By Liz Rahaman
July 14, 1999
Returning Officer of Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni), Francis Downer yesterday began his testimony in the Esther Perreira elections petition by tendering his report compiled on the 1997 general elections.
Led in his evidence by attorney-at-law Jeanenime Munroe standing in for Senior Counsel, Doodnauth Singh, who is appearing for the Chief Elections Officer (CEO), the witness said that a total of 5,544 persons were registered in this area with 4,879 voters. As returning officer, he had collected 4,850 voter ID cards, of which 4,125 were distributed. Some 725 cards were returned to the Elections Commission.
On the issue of ballot boxes, Downer said that he had uplifted 36 boxes and had distributed these to the 36 polling stations that were housed at schools and camps throughout Region Eight. The witness told the court that before the elections, the boxes were stored at his office at Mahdia and were distributed on December 14, 1997.
After the elections, the witness said, the boxes for the Mahdia/Potaro area were stored at his office at Mahdia, those from Kato were stored at the Kato Police Outpost and those from Paramakatoi and the three sub-districts were stored at the deputy returning officer's offices under armed police protection.
Under cross-examination by Senior Counsel, Peter Britton, who is representing the petitioner, the witness said that in his opinion the police station at Mahdia was not secure enough and therefore he felt that the ballot boxes were safer at his office. He agreed with Britton that the Manual for Returning Officers stated that the boxes should have been stored at the police stations.
The ballot boxes, according to the witness, were returned to the Elections Commission on December 20, by the three deputy returning officers accompanied by three policemen.
Questioned on statements of poll by Munroe, the witness said that presiding officers were requested to prepare and submit these.
Under cross-examination by Britton, the witness admitted that he had signed several statements of poll to show that they were authentic. However, he not could give the court an explanation why he found it necessary to endorse some and not all of the statements.
In response to a question by Britton, Downer stated that he had declared some of the results. Asked to explain this, the witness told the court that three polling stations were monitored by the returning officer of Region Nine because they were closer to that region. This arrangement was made by the CEO.
The witness told the court that on elections day, he had visited 13 polling stations where he observed representatives from the PPP/Civic, the PNC and the AFG. He added that some Electoral Assistance Bureau officials had visited other polling stations.
Questioned by Britton on the compilation of his report, the witness testified that the computerized document which was tendered in court was done by a secretary attached to the Ministry of Education. He also produced an original manuscript of the report in his handwriting and one which was typewritten.
However, on examining these, Britton pointed out that there were discrepancies. Unlike his typewritten report, the computerized document did not have a paragraph 15. The witness agreed that something was left out from the computerized report. Further, there were four pages making up the appendices in his computerised report but these were missing from his typewritten report.
He explained that the information in the four appendices was compiled on a broadsheet and submitted to the Elections Commission on December 29, 1997 and that it was the commission which had computed the information. He had never seen the broadsheet again, he said, and therefore could not verify the information in the appendices. The witness conceded that it was approximately one month after, on January 22, 1998, he was given the four appendices to be added to his report by the Deputy Chief Elections Officer, Ganga Persaud.
The hearing continues today in the elections petition which seeks to invalidate the results of the 1997 elections and has named the representatives of the lists of political parties which contested the elections and the CEO as its respondents.
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