Presiding officers continue to disown poll statements

By Kester Morris
Stabroek News
September 22, 1999

The elections petition hearing before Justice Claudette Singh continued yesterday with three more presiding officers disassociating themselves from unsigned statements of poll (SOP).

The three former presiding officers--Bibi Mohammed, Marcia Ross and Yvonne Farley--testified as well as Judy Davson, another former presiding officer from Region Four.

Davson professed to not being able to remember whether or not she had signed SOPs when she had been stationed on Elections Day 1997 at the East Ruimveldt Secondary School. Under cross-examination by Raphael Trotman, who along with Peter Britton, SC, is representing the petitioner Esther Perreira, she recalled preparing an SOP which was tendered in court.

However, she informed the court that 1997 had been a long time ago and that she was unsure about the exact number of SOPs she had prepared. Questioned by both Trotman and Justice Singh about whether she had signed the SOPs she prepared, the witness reiterated that 1997 had been a long time ago.

According to her, on election day, she had simply done her duty and then forgotten about the day. This disclosure prompted Trotman to question whether or not she had been paid for her duties as presiding officer. When Davson answered in the affirmative, Trotman asked her whether this payment had induced her to take her responsibilities seriously.

The witness responded that she had indeed taken her duties seriously, and went on to explain that she had only been given one training session rather than the required two.

Davson's testimony was preceded by that of Ross, who said she was "offended" that Chief Returning Officer for Region Four, Henry Europe, had tendered documents before the court which pointed to her not having done her duty on polling day. According to Trotman, the court had evidence from Europe that Ross, among others had, in haste, forgotten, neglected or "had not known" that she had to sign SOPs.

Ross maintained that she had not forgotten, or neglected to sign the SOPs and that she had indeed known that it was her duty to sign the documents. She said that she would not want Europe's claims to be believed.

When Trotman then had an SOP tendered in court that Europe had said was prepared by the witness, Ross disputed it as coming from her. She noted that the SOP was not prepared in her handwriting, nor did she see her signature on the document.

She did concede that, although she had told the court that she had given signed SOPs to political parties present, she had not made a note to that effect in her poll book.

Farley testified and was cross-examined by Britton, during which time she was shown a SOP, which she said was not hers and that she did not know who had prepared it.

Britton also had the witness concede that while she had told the court she had prepared a poll book, its only entry was on the last page when she had recorded someone being sent to another polling station.

The witness also testified that, prior to attending court she had visited the Elections Commission since she had been summoned by a letter which requested her presence for "additional information".

She said that at the commission she met Albert Henry, a senior Elections Commission official who directed her to visit the chambers of Doodnauth Singh, SC, who would show her some documents. Singh is representing the Chief Election Officer (CEO) in the elections petition.

According to the witness, the documents she was shown at Singh's chambers were a poll book and a SOP. However, she stated that she did not think that the SOP was hers.

And like, the others, Mohammed also disowned the unsigned SOPs.

On Monday, another batch of presiding officers had also disowned the unsigned SOPs they were shown.

Following the testimony of the four women, court was adjourned to tomorrow to facilitate a High Court sitting to be held in Berbice today to honour the late Stanley Hardyal.

The petitioner Esther Perreira is challenging the results of the 1997 general elections on the basis that they were so flawed that the outcome could not be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate. She has named among the respondents, former presidents Janet Jagan and Desmond Hoyte as well as the CEO.

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