Chief Elections Officer seeks release of polling material

Stabroek News
October 28, 1999

Chief Election Officer (CEO), Stanley Singh, has moved to the court seeking leave to remove and re-use voter ID cards and other elections material that were first used in the 1997 elections. The matter was yesterday put down to be heard on November 4, by Justice Claudette Singh.

Justice Singh, who is currently hearing the elections petition brought by Esther Perreira, made this ruling yesterday when it was found that summonses had not been served on all parties.

These include those named by Perreira in her petition that 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.

In the writ filed on October 22, the CEO, through his lawyer, Ashton Chase, SC, asked the court to order that the ID cards and other materials be removed from seven 20-foot containers currently housed at lot 41 High and Cowan St, Kingston. In addition to the cards, the CEO is also asking for the release of 1,847 ballot boxes, all sacred (religious) books, stamp pads, six digit stamps and staple machines.

The CEO's reasons for the request were contained in an affidavit and included such factors as the prohibitive cost and impracticability of re-making such cards when they were available.

In the document, the CEO had noted that the Election Commission had learned that government intended to hold two polls in the year 2000 - local government elections and a referendum. In addition, subject to the outcome of the petition, government will also be holding regional and general elections in the year 2000 or 2001.

The CEO went on, "I am informed by Secretary to the Treasury, Carol Hebert that the government does not have the funds means to replicate the 1997 cards and that moreover, it is uneconomic to do so." He further pointed out that in the circumstances it was impractical to seek overseas aid to remake cards that are already here. He said that the ID cards were crucial and very costly. In 1997, according to his affidavit, the European Union (EU) had had to provide a grant of US$418,910.

In 1999, this cost would also have to be increased since those registered voters who, between 1997 and 2000 would have attained the age of 18 would have to be factored in.

According to the CEO, the commission had no funds to carry out the replacement or to acquire the other necessary materials.

The CEO acknowledged in his affidavit that, under normal circumstances, the goods and supporting materials used in elections would have been available to the commission one year afterwards for use and\or destruction as the case might be.

However, the ongoing elections petition was filed in 1998 and, in or about December of that year, the commission had promised that it would not interfere with the elections materials until final determination of the proceedings. The commission, he said, was still honouring that undertaking. However, he went on to point out that the staff of the commission needed the available time in which to prepare for the 2000 elections.

As he noted, "late preparation due to delay in retrieving the needed things from the containers could lead to administrative bottlenecks, rushed, incomplete and unsatisfactory work."

On behalf of the commission, he undertook to observe any terms, conditions or restrictions that the court might impose and gave the assurance that it was practicable, under such supervision, for the elections material to be extracted without interfering with the main object of keeping and preserving the ballots.

Yesterday, in court Clyde Forde, who was holding for Chase, undertook to ensure that all parties would have been duly notified by November 4, the date on which the matter will come up again.

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