A forensic audit

Stabroek News
January 16, 1998

The People's National Congress, in an advertisement in this newspaper on Wednesday, indicated that they will agree to a forensic audit of the elections process and proposed terms of reference. This is a measurable step forward and makes it possible for the Caricom mission to get their teeth into something tangible as a basis for the discussion of a settlement of the current crisis.

The PNC suggested in their proposal that the investigators carrying out the forensic review must enquire into the adequacy and efficacy of all relevant stages, procedures and activities of the process. This will include the production of the Final Voters List, Voter ID cards and ballot papers, and an examination of their integrity and distribution, the instructions given by the Elections Commission to its employees and agents for the conduct of the poll and the adequacy of training and supervision provided, the levels of compliance with the polling day procedures especially as regards voter ID cards, rejected ballots and the integrity of the ballot boxes, the conduct of all stages of the documentation of the results of the poll including the transmission of documents to the Elections Commission's office, the job descriptions given to various officers and the detailed arrangements for the use of computers, any deviations that occurred with regard to job assignments and the procedures employed to announce results.

It is a wide ranging brief and the party proposes that the investigating body shall have the right to require and receive evidence and representations from all interested groups. The personnel required will be of a high level and will require both legal and accounting skills. What is being proposed, indeed, is a full scale enquiry into the electoral process.

The People's Progressive Party has agreed in principle to a poll. It has said clearly it has nothing to hide and won a legitimate victory. It may not have had an audit of such wide ranging proportions in mind when it made this commitment. However we believe the PNC proposals, though a little extravagant in concept, will if implemented put to rest finally the lingering fears of a large number of people as regards the delay in announcing the results, apparent problems with the use of computers, various discrepancies that were pointed out, the delays in bringing in some ballot boxes particularly from outlying areas and the serious problems in Georgetown with unsigned statements of poll.

If the PPP agree to an audit along these lines (there may be some room for negotiation) which must obviously also include a final count of the votes and if necessary an opening of the ballot boxes this will provide a firm basis for settlement. The Caricom mission would have to seek to define clearly, in consultation with the parties, the precise terms of reference of the investigating body, the scope of its authority, a time schedule and the identification of suitable persons in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Also, all concerned would have to agree to be bound by the findings and to accept the results and to stop all protest marches and return to normal life.