Presiding officer replaced before end of polls
--election petition hearing told

Stabroek News
October 30, 1999

The elections petition hearing was yesterday informed by a former presiding officer (PO) that he had ceased being in charge of his polling station at around 1400 hrs on Election Day and as such knew nothing about the preparation of statements of poll (SOPs) and poll books prepared at that station.

Stephen Bishop explained to the court presided over by Justice Claudette Singh that his deputy returning officer (DRO), whose behavior he described as "irresponsible", had replaced him with a woman.

Another former PO testified that of the two signatures appearing on a SOP tendered in court, only one was hers. The two signatures both said Myrna Husbands but the PO, under re-examination by Hubert Rodney, counsel for Chief Election Officer (CEO), Stanley Singh, disowned the second signature which was made in her name.

Husbands was the last of four witnesses to testify yesterday following Beshpati Samaroo, Surujdai Thakram and Bishop.

Bishop, meanwhile, when asked by Rodney whether he had prepared a poll book tendered in court, had responded that he could not complete the book because he had been replaced.

Under cross-examination by Peter Britton, SC, counsel for the petitioner, Esther Perreira, Bishop explained that he and three other persons had been appointed to work at a private residence in Bel Air. According to him, only three persons had shown up for work on December 15, forcing him to function both as PO and Assistant PO.

Bishop recalled that when his DRO had visited to check on progress at the station, a polling clerk told the DRO that he (Bishop) was working slowly.

Bishop said that he tried to explain to the DRO that having to do two jobs slowed him down. However, the DRO was said to have told him that she wanted to hear nothing from him after which she left.

She eventually returned and, according to Bishop, took with her a woman unknown to him from a polling division in the same building, and asked him to leave his post.

Bishop said that he complied but remained in the building. He said that he had eventually been called back when the votes were being counted.

However, he acknowledged to Britton that from the time he was asked to leave (at around 1400 hrs) to the time work at the station stopped around 2300 hrs), the ballot box had been out of his sight.

He recalled that after being called back he had had to accompany the ballot box and elections materials to the Kitty Community Centre where he was asked by an Elections Commission official to fill out a SOP from memory. Bishop said that what he ended up preparing was a simple slip of paper on which he wrote down the results as he remembered them and signed it. He also recalled that, prior to attending court, he had met a senior Elections Commission official named Albert Henry but that the official had not produced the documents he had signed.

Questioned by Britton as to whether SOPs had been prepared at the polling place, Bishop said that he could remember seeing his "replacement" prepare SOPs but was unable to say if these had been completed. He said that those preparing the SOPs appeared confused and even asked an observer from the Electoral Assistance Bureau for assistance.

Before closing his cross-examination, Britton had the witness acknowledge that he (Bishop) had been the PO listed for that station and that his replacement had not even been listed to work at the same station. He said that he had not authorised anyone to prepare SOPs for him.

Thakram recalled preparing her SOPs and poll book and accompanying her documents and ballot boxes to the local Elections Commission office at Triumph, East Coast Demerara.

Under cross-examination, however, she said she had not personally handed over her material to anyone and that she ended up leaving the Triumph office late. The reason for the lateness, she said was because he had had to stand in two long lines--one to hand in materials and another phone in results.

Asked about how she had phoned in these results, Thakram said she had used her code number. However, she told Britton that she did not know who had been on the other end of the line when she had been calling in these results.

Husbands recalled preparing her poll book and SOP. She was then shown a SOP by Britton and asked whether she usually wrote her signatures differently and she answered in the affirmative.

Under careful questioning by the lawyer, she then conceded that one of the signatures was not just formed differently, but written in a totally different way from how she normally signed her name. After Britton closed his cross-examination, Rodney stood up and asked the witness whether she had written both signatures, to which she answered in the negative.

The hearing will continue on Monday.

Perreira, through her lawyers Britton and Raphael Trotman, is challenging the 1997 elections on the grounds that the process was so flawed that it cannot be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples