Witness tells court she served as presiding officer though untrained

Stabroek News
October 12, 1999

During the 1997 elections, results were declared from a polling station based on a statement of poll prepared by someone who was not a presiding officer (PO) and who had never been trained to be one, a court was told yesterday.

Additionally, some presiding officers had been warned by an Elections Commission official that before they could be paid, they had to sign statements of poll, which they had left unsigned on December 15. This was some of the testimony given yesterday in the elections petition hearing being presided over by Justice Claudette Singh.

The testimony came from three former POs--Babise Pierre, Paula McKenzie and Carrol Oudkerk--as well as an ex-Elections Commission employee, Shawn Proctor.

Proctor, under examination by attorney-at-law Hubert Rodney, testified that while an employee of the Elections Commission, she had been required to work as a PO at a polling station despite never having applied for the position.

Under cross-examination by Rodney's opposite, Peter Britton, SC, Proctor testified that she had performed these duties in the place of Claudette Smith, a scheduled PO whose name was on one of the documents shown to Proctor by counsel.

She recalled that while at the polling station, she had enquired who Smith was and that a woman had been pointed out to her but that this woman soon disappeared from the polling station.

Having arrived after the polls were opened, Proctor said, she had not been able to check the ballot box.

When shown a SOP by the lawyer, Proctor identified it as hers and Britton then had the SOP tendered into evidence.

Proctor also testified that contrary to counsel's suggestion, she did not remember any persons being called upon to sign their SOPs before they could be paid.

In later testimony, however, Oudkerk told Britton that at a post elections meeting between some former POs and a deputy returning officer identified as a Mr Ganesh, some of the former POs present had said that they had not signed their SOPs.

She testified that these former POs, who had not signed their SOPs, were not given their full payment and that Ganesh had told them that until they signed they would not receive all their money.

During the course of her testimony, Oudkerk was shown four SOPs by Britton, two of which she identified as being prepared and signed by her. The other copies, she said, had been prepared by an assistant, after which she had checked and signed the document.

Britton then directed her to compare the total number of votes recorded on the SOP she claimed as hers against the one prepared by her assistant.

After looking at the documents, the witness concluded that "her" SOP had carried some 306 votes total while the one prepared by her assistant only carried some 156 votes.

Britton took special interest in this, asking the court to observe that the amount given to the parties had apparently been changed.

McKenzie, under examination by Rodney, testified that she had prepared a poll book in the course of her duties, which was produced and tendered into evidence.

When shown a number of SOPs by Britton, the former PO identified some as hers but noted that others had not been prepared in her handwriting nor were they signed by her. She reported that she had never authorised anyone to sign SOPs on her behalf.

She was then directed to observe the number of political parties to which votes had been allocated by the different SOPs.

McKenzie reported that the unsigned SOPs had votes recorded for four parties while the one she accepted as hers had votes going to five parties. The total number of votes recorded was the same on both SOPs.

McKenzie also observed that on Elections Day, she had recorded the results for the national and regional elections on different pages, but on one of the documents shown to her, both had been on a single sheet.

This echoed earlier testimony given by Pierre, who had also told the court that one of the documents shown to her had both the regional and general results on one page. She maintained that she had never prepared her SOP like that and that nothing on that particular SOP had been written by her.

The witness identified another document shown to her by Britton as bearing her signature. She observed that any SOP prepared by her would be like that document.

The elections petition hearing will continue this morning. The petition has been brought by Esther Perreira, who is challenging the 1997 elections on the grounds that the process was so flawed that it could not be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate. She has named among respondents, the Chief Election Officer, Stanley Singh, as well as former presidents Janet Jagan and Desmond Hoyte.

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