Poll audit meaningless now - Hoyte

By Alim Hassim
Stabroek News
January 15, 1998

Efforts to have an international audit of the December 15, 1997 polls after the official results had been declared were yesterday deemed "meaningless" by leader of the opposition People's National Congress (PNC), Desmond Hoyte.

The PNC leader reiterated his party's aim to pursue an elections petition challenging the results and to step-up the campaign against an electoral process he described as `flawdulent', a word he said he coined himself. He, however, declined to comment on the forms of protest action to be taken in the stepped-up campaign.

Furthermore, Hoyte is advocating new elections, which he says, should have as a pre-requisite an investigation "into the flaws" that occurred in the whole electoral process.

The Private Sector Commission (PSC) and other bodies have been working diligently to get the political parties that contested the elections to agree to an international audit, which it felt would eliminate the alleged discrepancies.

While some of the other political parties, including the People's Progressive Party (PPP)/Civic, had agreed to such an audit in a bid to resolve the problem, the PNC leader yesterday told a press conference that the audit would "legally" not be the means of solving the problem.

"First, because such an audit has been pre-empted by the declaration [of the elections results] made yesterday [Tuesday] and the Chairman [of the Elections Commission, Doodnauth Singh] had earlier undertaken not make any declaration before an audit had been carried out," Hoyte told reporters at a press conference yesterday.

He referred to a letter he received from Singh, dated December 13, in which he was given the assurance that "unless this process is completed, the Elections Commission will not be in a position to certify the final results of the 1997 general and regional elections."

Making further arguments as to why the audit was not appropriate at this time, Hoyte said, "...Very many of the documents necessary for such verification are alleged to have been lost. The chairman said that the officials hadn't sent them in and you would have seen some of the officials denying it on television and one even called on Singh to apologise.

"Subsequently, the chief returning officer, in the presence of the representatives of the political parties and one or two observers, admitted that all the documents had been received, but by the next day they had disappeared."

In addition to those, the party leader said, "there is a large number of discrepancies involving these statements of poll and the figures that the Elections Commission had." The series of irregularities and inconsistencies, Hoyte argued, were so extensive that "one didn't know where one was going and in the final analysis our people concluded that this exercise will take us nowhere."

However, assuming that a verification exercise went through to the end, there were two possible results, he said. One would have been that the verification process could establish beyond a shadow of a doubt what were in fact the number of valid votes cast and how they were distributed among the parties. The other possibility "which I think is more probable" would have been that the process would end up with the auditors saying, "We can't make head nor tail of what had happened and we cannot say with any certainty how many valid votes were cast and how they were distributed among the parties."

But in either case, he said, the fact stood out that the Chief Election Officer had signed in accordance with law a certificate certifying the number of votes cast and the way they were distributed. Those were the statutory duties of the Chief Elections Officer. "So no amount of verification; nothing done by independent people outside of the law would change what the Chief Election Officer has done.

So the whole idea becomes quite meaningless at this point in time," Hoyte said. The earlier certificate was deemed by the Commission to have been inadvertently distributed and was declared invalid.

Elaborating on the party's pursuit of a legal petition against the declared results, Hoyte said it was clear that the possibility existed that advantage would be taken of the processes of the law to delay the resolution of such a petition, "and in the interest of this country we must find means to achieve a speedy resolution of the issues."

He said the PNC could see no alternative to the holding of fresh elections "especially in the context of the irregularities surrounding the statements of poll, even where the originals can be found; the counting and the integrity of the ballot boxes which effectively excludes resolution via a simple recount of what's currently in the ballot boxes".

The prevailing circumstances, he said had taken this issue far beyond who won the December 15 elections. "The results are now not verifiable in the context of the plethora of incompetencies, illegalities and procedural snafus. All the data that could have helped us has been irreversibly corrupted."

The issue he said, was now a wider one about the speedy restoration of faith in the democratic process; about the avoidance of civil disorder, provoked by the "unwarranted harsh treatment of peaceful protestors by the Police Force."

Present at the press conference were commissioners Dr Barton Scotland and Parris, who made statements regarding their concerns about the electoral system. The conference was chaired by PNC General Secretary, Aubrey Norton.