No clear election audit initiative yet - Hoyte

by Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
January 5, 1998

There has been no clear initiative put before the People's National Congress (PNC) by interested groups to bring an end to the current elections impasse Leader of the PNC, Desmond Hoyte, said yesterday. The People's National Congress (PNC) has rejected the December 15 elections results as seriously flawed and is calling for new polls. Responding to a question in relation to the present PNC position on an international audit of the ballot boxes and relevant elections materials, Hoyte in a telephone interview yesterday asked "which audit?" pointing out that there appears to be "a lot of confusion out there" in terms of arriving at decisions on initiatives which seek to resolve the problems.

Hoyte yesterday told Stabroek News that there were initiatives from four interested groups namely, the Private Sector Commission (PSC), the International Foundation for Election Systems, the Guyana Trades Union Congress and the head of the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB) observer mission, Hugh Cholmondeley.

The PSC has proposed that an audit of all election related material be carried out by an international organisation and is believed to have suggested that IFES, which is prepared to undertake the exercise at no cost to government or the Guyana Elections Commission, conduct it.

Hoyte is, however, not confident of the PSC proposal claiming that the private sector body in its recent actions has compromised itself by taking sides which, he said was evident in a recent statement in which the PSC has warned of dire consequences if PNC-led demonstrations in the city do not stop.

He said he had no problems with an international audit but there were a number of areas that must be agreed upon including terms of reference which have to be clarified and a commitment by the ruling PPP/Civic to step down if the court so ruled in the case brought by the PNC challenging the declaration of Mrs Janet Jagan as President. Modification of seat allocations in Parliament if large discrepancies were found in the vote audit is also another area where agreement has to be clinched. Hoyte appeared to have softened his stand on an audit after saying last week that any such venture would be "meaningless" following the declaration of final certified results by the Elections Commission.

In her New Year's Day message, President Jagan declared her government's support for an international audit of the elections process.

And, Presidential Candidate of the Alliance for Guyana, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine yesterday told Stabroek News that the AFG's priority is at present consolidating its elections report from the field in preparation for an international audit.

He said that the AFG, an alliance of the Working People's Alliance, the Guyana Labour Party and Citizens, has also repudiated the December 15 results as seriously flawed. The Guyana Democratic Party, led by former Finance Minister Asgar Ally has also spurned the December elections results.

Meanwhile, Manzoor Nadir, Leader of The United Force, which according to the official results won a seat in the new parliament, told reporters last week that he was satisfied with the results and based on his polling agents' tally sheets no fraud had been committed at the national and regional elections.

The PSC proposal, which is being advanced by Head of the EAB Observer Mission, Cholmondeley, would involve a team of international accountants coming to Guyana to check the results of the elections and might include opening the ballot boxes and counting the votes with the leave of the court. The parties would agree to be bound by the results whatever they might be. It would also provide for further dialogue between the parties. Cholmondeley left Guyana yesterday and is to return in about one week's time.

Chairman of the Elections Commission Doodnauth Singh who had announced that the commission was moving to secure the ballot boxes and relevant materials in anticipation of a possible international audit on Saturday told this newspaper that the question of the audit is still to be considered by the Commission.

At a press conference held last Wednesday by Commissioners representing opposition political parties, Commissioner Jocelyn Dow had said that she would only recommend an audit by a United Nations body stating emphatically that "no private firm" should conduct the audit.

Dr Barton Scotland, another opposition commissioner, had said that the unilateral decision taken by the Elections Commission Chairman to secure ballot boxes in metal containers and statements of poll and other relevant elections documents in unused ballot boxes at Demerara Bank Limited (DBL) without the prior consent of other commissioners made him "even more convinced of the futility of audits" of the elections results. There is some controversy over whether the ballot boxes at DBL were used in the 1997 elections.

The securing of the ballot boxes with only People's Progressive Party/Civic Commissioners present along with representatives of the EAB, the PSC and the police and with political parties which contested the elections absent, he said further jeopardises the "reason behind the audits".

Asking the question "would the audits tell us what we want?" he said that while there would be several questions about figures, there will also be several questions that would not be answered. For instance, he said, there is the issue of the disappearance and subsequent reappearance of the statements of poll, the case of the "intelligent computers" which when fed one number regurgitates another and the emergence of photocopies of statements of poll instead of the original documents.