Presiding officer says she signed all her poll statements

Stabroek News
September 15, 1999

A presiding officer during the 1997 elections yesterday testified under cross-examination that she had signed all statements of poll (SOPs) issued from her polling station and was adamant that an unsigned SOP that supposedly came from her polling station was not prepared by her.

When questioned by attorney-at-law and leader of the National Independent Party, Saphier Hussain, Kim Tait, former presiding officer at the Grove Primary School, also denied that she had authorised anyone to prepare SOPs on her behalf.

As she pointed out, only the presiding officer was authorised to prepare statements of poll and send them to Returning Officer of Region Four, Henry Europe.

Hussain had earlier tendered an unsigned SOP purporting to come from Grove Primary School, but yesterday Tait told the court that the handwriting on the document was not hers.

Questioned by Hussain as to when she first knew that she had been named as a presiding officer who had failed to sign her SOPs, Tait recalled being shown an unsigned SOP on Monday by Albert Henry, a senior official responsible for legal affairs at the Elections Commission.

However, she again pointed out that the document, which appeared to be a photocopy, did not carry her handwriting.

Before her cross-examination by Hussain, the witness had also refuted a suggestion by attorney-at-law Raphael Trotman that she had forgotten to sign all the SOPs in haste. According to Tait, anyone who said so would be lying.

She also refuted Trotman's suggestion that she understood her job as presiding officer to mean that she could deviate from her training manual.

The witness pointed out that her training as a presiding officer had been done over a two-day period and that during that period "no one told us we could deviate from the manual."

Tait was one of six witnesses called yesterday to the stand by Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, who is representing Chief Election Officer (CEO), Stanley Singh in this petition.

With the exception of Europe, the witnesses were all presiding officers on the East Bank during the 1997 general elections.

They included Clarice John, Lynette Shortt, Sharon Alexander and Ann Hernandes.

The testimony of the four women centred on polling day activities, when they had recorded relevant information gathered that day as well as prepared the SOPs in the presence of various observers, including representatives from the two major political parties.

Statements of poll were tendered in court and the witnesses identified their SOPs by virtue of their handwriting on them.

The former presiding officers, with the exception of Shortt, all reported that no observer present had queried the correctness of the procedure at the time the SOPs were being drawn up.

During examination by Singh, Shortt told the court that while the final count was taking place at her polling station some representatives there had objected that the count was incorrect. She reported that, along with her, they had checked and were eventually satisfied that the count was correct.

Before cross-examining Tait, Hussain had Europe recalled to the stand. Resuming his testimony from Monday, Europe submitted additional information about unsigned SOPs.

He also told the court that notices about some changes to be made at some polling stations during the elections had been communicated to the political parties concerned, three days before the elections. He further agreed with Hussain that in keeping with the Representation of the People Act, this notice should have been circulated 14 days in advance.

Court was yesterday adjourned with Justice Singh ordering that the women return to court today to face cross-examination by Senior Counsel Peter Britton, who along with Trotman is representing Esther Perreira in this election petition. The petition is seeking to invalidate the results of the 1997 general elections and has named the representatives of the political parties and the CEO as respondents.

All the parties concerned, with the exception of A Good and Green Guyana (AGGG) led by Mayor Hamilton Green, have agreed to be bound by the ruling of this case.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples