Region Seven officer unable to explain unauthorised signature

Stabroek News
July 24, 1999

Returning Officer for Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni), Harry Persaud, was yesterday unable to explain the presence of an unauthorised signature on statements of poll which he had tendered as evidence before the court presided over by Justice Claudette Singh.

Under cross-examination by Senior Counsel Peter Britton, lawyer for the petitioner Esther Perreira, who has challenged the results of the December 1997 general elections, Persaud admitted that he had five deputy returning officers, but none by the name of Audrey McKenzie. McKenzie's signature appears on statements for the regional and national elections for polling stations at Skull Point Primary School and Karrow Primary School. These statements were signed two days after the elections on December 17.

Persaud explained to the court that McKenzie had assisted the deputy returning officers on election day but had not performed any duties at the polling stations. He said that he did not know why her signature had appeared on the statements, but he did not know it was an offence that she had signed the documents.

Persaud further admitted that he was aware that the vast majority of statements were not countersigned by any of the political parties' polling agents.

Persaud, who entered the witness stand for the first time on Thursday, had presented his report in evidence to the court.

Britton had objected to the admissibility of the report on the grounds that it was signed on a page which was supplied by the Elections Commission.

Persaud agreed with Britton that the only page on which his signature appeared was one prepared by the Elections Commission. He had also testified about the elections results in his region as well as the number of electors, voter ID cards received and distributed and votes cast at the 66 polling stations situated in the 13 sub-divisions.

Under cross-examination by Britton, the witness had said he did not visit any polling stations in the outlying areas and had compiled information on these areas based on what was fed to him by the deputy returning officer. He also agreed that he did not witness any counting of polls in the region.

On the storage of ballot boxes, the witness said that he had used the Bartica National Democratic Council Boardroom which was two buildings away from the Bartica Police Station. He explained that he found it more convenient. He explained further that during the distribution system he had experienced some difficulty because the officer had left the area with the key.

Questioned on his report, the witness admitted that he had assistance from the Elections Commission in the computation of one part of the document. He testified that he had delivered his notes to Deputy Chief Election Officer, Ganga Persaud, and had collected the computerized report from Persaud's secretary. Another part was typewritten by his clerk and clerical assistant.

Meanwhile, on his last day in the witness box on Thursday, Returning Officer for Region Two (Essequibo/Pomeroon), Ramjeet Singh, denied that the elections were not transparent.

Under cross-examination by Leader of the National Independent Party, attorney Saphier Hussain, the witness told the court that he disagreed with Hussain's suggestion that the elections were not transparent.

The attorney had asked him if in view of all the irregularities pointed out under cross-examination, he was still of the opinion that the election was transparent.

In earlier evidence the witness had testified to statements of poll (SOP) being unsigned by presiding officers and polling agents of the political parties. Hussain's suggestion that the unsigned SOPs raised doubts about the accuracy of the witness's report was objected to by Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh who is representing the Chief Election Officer (CEO) in the hearing. The senior counsel contended that unsigned statements did not mean that the report was inaccurate.

Ramjeet Singh further testified that the figures on the SOPs were submitted to him by his deputy and that it was after the SOPs were presented to him that he observed they were unsigned.

Questioned on the issue of ballot papers, the witness said he had received 29,000 of these, but agreed that he had requested in excess of 2,000 more. Twenty-seven thousand, five hundred electors were registered in Region Two and he had not expected to register more than that amount. However, he explained that the reason for his request was because he wanted to have an adequate supply of ballot papers.

According to the witness only 24,789 ballot papers were used, he agreed he had in excess of 4,000 unused ballot papers. These were placed in envelopes and returned to the Elections Commission, he said, although he had failed to mention this in his report.

In her petition, Perreira has named the representatives of the lists of political parties which contested the elections and the CEO as respondents.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples