Deputy returning officers say ballot boxes were sealed
-election petition adjourned to January 10

By Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
December 18, 1999

The elections petition hearing yesterday ended its sittings for the year 1999 with the testimony of a former Deputy Returning Officer (DRO) who observed that any unsealed and unlocked ballot boxes from his division which had been discovered during the audit of the elections must have been tampered with after they left his care.

This was the testimony of Michael Smith, former DRO for the North Ruimveldt/Riverview Subdistrict and one of 179 witnesses that have so far been called by counsel for the Chief Election Officer (CEO), Stanley Singh, since he began his case on June 2 of this year.

The CEO is among the 11 named respondents in the elections petition which is being brought by Esther Perreira, through her counsel, Peter Britton, SC and Raphael Trotman.

At the time Smith made his assertion, he was being cross-examined by Rex McKay, SC, counsel for former President, Desmond Hoyte.

Smith's testimony came after McKay had asked him whether ballot boxes in his division had been sealed and locked, to which he answered in the affirmative.

The senior counsel next attempted to ask Smith whether People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament, Odinga Lumumba had then been wrong when he had reported that some ballot boxes from that particular division had been unsealed and unlocked.

However, Doodnauth Singh, SC, counsel for the CEO pointed out that the witness would only be able to testify about what happened on December 15th polling day.

At this point, McKay asked Smith whether his boxes had been locked and sealed on December 15th to which Smith again answered in the affirmative.

He then told McKay he would have been surprised to learn that boxes had been discovered without locks and seals and that this would mean that these boxes had been interfered with after he had deposited them.

During re-examination, Doodnauth Singh questioned Smith on the security devices on a ballot box outside of the seals and locks. Smith revealed that the ballot boxes were taped and also carried the signatures of persons.

McKay questioned him about the type of tape used and, during his answer, the witness revealed that ballot boxes bore the signatures of party representatives.

Smith's testimony followed that of Pamela Craig, another former DRO who acknowledged to the court presided over by Justice Claudette Singh that she had signed some Statements of Poll (SOPs) without being so authorised.

Craig, in her second appearance on the stand, maintained that she had signed these SOPs some days after December 15 but that she had had a reason for doing so.

She gave this testimony after having already told the court that on December 15 she had prepared a record of votes with information gathered from signed SOPs given to her by Presiding Officers within her district.

She maintained that these were signed but told the court that she did not wish to challenge the previous testimony of Region 4 Returning Officer, Henry Europe that several SOPs had been unsigned.

When asked about the ballot boxes in her division, Craig said that all of these had been sealed and locked. McKay then brought to her attention previous testimony given by People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) observer Joseph O'Lall who had recorded that some boxes had been without seals and locks.

McKay recited these numbers but Craig said that she did not know these numbers.

During, re-examination, Doodnauth Singh had her corroborate the numbers appearing on the SOPs that she had signed with those on the documents she had prepared.

The senior counsel recited several numbers and had Craig confirm that her document reflected the same numbers as those in the records.

Following the testimony of the two people, Justice Singh adjourned the case to a mutually agreed date of January 10, some five days after she will hear a summons by Chief Election Officer Stanley Singh to have the ballot boxes and other elections material released in preparation for upcoming elections.

The first hearing of the election petition was on September 29, 1998 with statistical expert Haslyn Parris testifying. Since then 191 other witnesses have testified in the year-and-a-half-long petition with 17 of these having been called by the petitioner, Esther Perreira.

Perreira is challenging the 1997 elections on the ground that the process was so flawed that it cannot be said to accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

In addition to the CEO and Hoyte, she has named as respondents former President Janet Jagan as well as the representatives of the other parties which contested the elections.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples