Audit team will re-count ballots- work may exceed deadline

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
March 24, 1998

The CARICOM Audit Commission (CAC) plans to open ballot boxes used at the December 15 elections and to do a manual count of the ballots cast for each of the parties which contested.

However, it is not yet sure how long this aspect of the audit would last.

Briefing the media yesterday at the Le Meridien Pegasus, CAC Chairman, Ulric Cross, said that the count would be conducted by members of the commission and the parties which contested the elections would be asked to each send a representative to witness the count.

Cross said that while the enabling legislation for the CAC specified Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) and Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne), the team intended to count the ballots of all ten electoral districts. He said that the idea was to reconcile the ballots cast with the statements of poll, the authenticity of which would be determined with reference to the electoral legislation.

In response to questions as to the reasoning which prompted the decision to access the ballot boxes, Denis Smith a member of the commission said that if an audit of the results was to be done, there was only one way to do it and that was to count the votes. As to what steps would be taken to ensure that what was given to the team were the correct documents, Smith said those decisions would be taken when the boxes were opened.

He said the CAC expected to examine "every single ballot" including the rejected ballots. (The petition by the People's Progressive Party is based on its claim that most of the rejected ballots were cast in its favour.)

Cross said that beyond the stage of the count a decision had not been taken as to whether the party's representatives would be allowed to be present at any other stage of the commission's work. Nor did the CAC consider that it would be necessary to obtain a court order to access the ballot boxes.

Cross said that while the team hoped that it could complete the first phase of the audit by April 17 as envisaged by the Herdmanston Accord, "we are not certain that we can do so". He said that this information had been transmitted to the political parties it had met between Wednesday and Sunday.

"We have already indicated to all the political parties when they came to see us that it is possible that we might not be able to complete our task in a manner which we consider satisfactory and which we think the people of Guyana would consider satisfactory," Cross explained. "We are not confident. We cannot guarantee that we can do it by April 17. However, we are pretty certain that we can do it not long after that date."

Cross said that the CAC also "...didn't want to sacrifice effectiveness and efficiency on the altar of expedition."

Cross said that the commission was meeting Chief Election Officer Stanley Singh and key members of his staff yesterday and planned to also meet the present Elections Commission and the members of the Elections Commission which presided over the December 15 polls.

Smith said that he and the computer experts had already met Singh and had made a number of requests of him. He declined to elaborate as to the nature of those requests.

Cross explained that as part of their work, it was planned to discuss with Singh and his staff matters such as the training of the election day staff; the structure of the Elections Commission; the letters of appointment of the election day staff; the logistical and security arrangements for the distribution, collection and return of ballot boxes; the production, distribution and issue of the voter identification cards; the receipts for material issued to the returning officers and from the returning officers to the presiding officers; the procedures for the casting and counting of the votes of the Disciplined Services; and the transmission and declaration of the elections result.

Cross said too that the commission would meet any other persons and would pursue any other matter considered relevant.

He said that the computer experts would examine the source documents used and the reports of the computer centre.

Cross said that the commission was not sure that the distinction made between the arithmetic and systemic phases of the electoral process was as clear cut as envisaged in the CARICOM-brokered Herdmanston Accord.

He said that it was the view of the CAC that the two phases could not be completely divorced and that it was possible that the team might complete both phases at the same time.

In response to concerns that the reports by observer groups which had observed the elections could influence the work of the CAC, Cross stressed that his commission would arrive at its findings independently. He said that for his part he had taken a deliberate decision not to read any of the reports which had been made available to the members of the commission as he wanted to approach the audit with an open mind. He said that he would read them later to see if they coincided with his findings.

"Unless they [the reports] confirm my own findings, they will be given no weight," Cross said.

But he said that while he did not think it necessary to admonish the other members of the team not to read the reports, he did not think that they would be influenced by what they read.

Ask about the involvement of the CARICOM Special Facilitator, Hugh Cholmondeley, with the commission, Cross said that Cholmondeley's contact was restricted to getting the team here. Moreover, he emphasised, Cholmondeley was not a member of the commission.

Asked if the commission had all the material and other support it required to discharge its functions, Cross said that CARICOM had promised to supply whatever was needed.

He said too that Joseph Farrier of the CARICOM Secretariat had been appointed secretary to the commission.