More presiding officers disown unsigned poll statements

By Kester Morris
Stabroek News
September 18, 1999

Two presiding officers during the 1997 elections who have been called to testify in the elections petition hearing before Justice Claudette Singh, yesterday maintained that they had signed all their statements of poll (SOPs).

Under cross-examination by Senior Counsel, Peter Britton, the former presiding officers, Lynette Short and Clarice John, also disassociated themselves from unsigned SOPs that were tendered in court by counsel.

Continuing testimony began earlier in the week, the two women noted that the SOPs tendered in court did not bear their signatures, nor were they prepared in their handwriting.

While cross-examining Short, Britton drew her attention to a notation on one of the unsigned SOPs. The notation in red ink read: "In haste the presiding officer may have forgotten to sign this copy."

Short said that the signature attached to the notation appeared to be that of Returning Officer of Region Four, Henry Europe.

However, she told the court that she had never told Europe that she had forgotten to sign any SOP in haste and that the two had never even had a consultation with respect to the SOP. She also expressed considerable surprise at the presence of the notation, since, according to her, when she had first been shown the unsigned SOP on September 13, 1999, the notation had not been there.

The witness had earlier told the court that she had been summoned for a "briefing" at the Elections Commission on that day and had been shown the unsigned SOP and a poll book by Albert Henry, a senior official responsible for legal affairs.

She stated that when Henry had asked her whether the poll book was hers she had replied in the affirmative. However, when questioned as to whether the SOP was hers, she said that she had denied preparing the SOP, pointing out that it was not in her handwriting.

The witness told the court that she was definite that she had signed the SOPs since she been warned that to do otherwise would be to risk jail.

Britton then steered her testimony back to 1997, questioning her as to what the procedure had been for phoning in results from her polling station at Grove Primary School.

The witness recounted details of the procedure, but told the court that this system was not used since her deputy returning officer had had problems with the phone.

Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, who is representing the Chief Election Officer (CEO) in the petition, declined re-examination. Britton then called Clarice John, who like, Short, professed not to know where the unsigned SOPs had come from.

She also recalled being shown documents by Henry on Monday, but was uncertain about how many SOPs were shown to her. However, she was certain that a SOP shown to her on Monday did not have her signature and as such was not hers.

She also reported that apart from the unsigned SOPs that she saw on Monday, she had seen one signed by a Clifford Patoi.

She also drew Britton's attention to an anomaly in the documents.

One of the documents tendered in court identified her polling station at Herstelling Primary with the Roman numeral ii, while another document used the number 2. She pointed out that the difference in the two documents was the way the identification number was written.

Britton then drew her attention to another red notation identical to that earlier observed by Short. Although unable to identify the handwriting, John, like Short, said that she had told no one that haste had made her forget to sign a SOP.

Singh, then drew the witness's attention to two SOPs, one that she accepted as hers and another unsigned one whose origins she professed not to know. Singh made the witness observe that both SOPs contained identical records of the number of votes cast, those rejected and the eventual total. In addition to Short and John, another former presiding officer, Ann Hernandes also took the stand yesterday.

She was cross-examined by Raphael Trotman, who along with Britton is representing the elections petitioner Esther Perreira, who is seeking to invalidate the results of the 1997 elections.

Trotman reminded Hernandes that, on Thursday, she had told the court that she had made a record of the results from her polling station in her 1997 diary.

Yesterday she fulfilled her promise to produce the diary. However, after scanning it, the lawyer challenged her to show any entry marked from the year 1997. The witness conceded that there were several entries for 1998, but that there was none for 1997. Trotman then suggested to her that her jottings about the elections results had only been made recently. Hernandes denied this.

Under re-examination Singh directed Hernandes to look at the entry with the results, after which the witness was able to report that the entry was dated "1997".

Court was adjourned to Monday following the testimony of Short.

The elections petition, which started in September 1998, was brought by Esther Perreira, who is seeking to invalidate the results of the 1997 general elections on the grounds that the process was so flawed that it could not be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

Among those she has cited as respondents are former presidents Janet Jagan and Desmond Hoyte as well as the CEO.

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