GECOM to release copies of SoPs

-following meeting with private sector on Monday

ollowing a meeting with the private sector on Monday, GECOM agreed to hand over scanned Statements of Poll (SoPs) to the parties which contested the November 28 general elections but this decision was only made public last evening, hours after several APNU protesters were injured by police rubber bullets during a demonstration for the verification of SoP’s.

Guyana Elections Com-mission (GECOM) Public Relations Officer (PRO) Vishnu Persaud told Stabroek News last evening that the Commission decided to make available DVDs with scanned copies of statements of polls to the four contesting parties.  The DVDs have not been handed over as yet, Persaud indicated. DVDs will also be given to the Electoral Assistance Bureau (EAB) and the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU).

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) had been demanding for several days now a verification of the SoP’s and access to the statements but GECOM had declined. It is unclear why GECOM acceded to this as a result of the meeting with the Private Sector Commission.

The row over the Statements of Poll fuelled protests over the last few days by APNU.  The coalition last evening, through its Vice Chairman, indicated that it was pleased by GECOM’s decision.

GECOM, in a release yesterday, said that on Monday a 9-member PSC team met with GECOM Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally and the senior management team of the GECOM Secretariat where it sought to obtain clarity on the concerns of APNU on issues arising from the November 28 polls.   The PSC team included Komal Ramnauth, Gerry Gouveia, Kit Nascimento, Michael Correia, Eon Caesar, Clinton Williams, John Willems and Elizabeth Alleyne.

According to GECOM “foremost among the issues discussed” were: delays in the tabulation and release of election results, calls for verification of the SoPs particularly in Region 4, calls by APNU and the EAB for copies of the SoPs, discarded ballot box seals publicly displayed by APNU and the non-issuance of Certificates of Employ-ments not issued to party agents.

Regarding the tabulation of the results, GECOM said it gave the assurance “that the tabulation of the results of the elections was done on the basis of the SoPs from the respective Polling Stations, which were certified by the Presiding Officers and Party Agents who participated in the counting of the Ballots.”  These SoPs, according to the GECOM release, were further checked by the respective Deputy Returning Officers and Returning Officers in that order for accuracy before being forwarded to the Chief Election Officer where it is checked again for correctness.  Surujbally, the release said, stressed that for the SoPs for any polling stations to have been compromised “it would have required complete collusion between the GECOM polling day staff and the various party agents and observers present at the counting of the poll.“It was further emphasized that the entire process from the point of counting at the Polling Stations up to the point of compilation at the Command Centre of the GECOM Secretariat was constantly overseen by Party Agents, Local and International Observers,” the release indicated.

The PSC said that it was informed by the Commission that there is no legal requirement for GECOM to give any external agency, including political parties and observers, copies of SoPs.

“Nonetheless, the Chairman undertook to provide scanned copies of all of the SoPs on DVD to the Political Parties which contested the elections and to the EAB and the GPSU,” the PSC said.

Contacted last evening, APNU’s vice chairman Dr Rupert Roopnaraine said he was delighted that GECOM had finally decided to release the SoPs to the parties, adding that the Commission may have yielded to pressure from the APNU and other groups.

He said that the party will now be able to verify the SoPs that GECOM used to declare its result with those that the party has in its possession.
Asked about GECOM deciding to release the results only after an engagement with the PSC, Roopnaraine initially said that he was not aware of what role the Commission had in the process.

However, when pointed to the content of GECOM’s release, Roopnaraine said that it was “good that the PSC was using its influence on the side of righteousness”. Further, Roopnaraine said that the recent developments as it related to the SoPs also indicate that the efforts of the marchers especially those who were assaulted yesterday had not been in vain.

Meanwhile, AFC chairman Khemraj Ramjattan told this newspaper on Monday that the party was in support of GECOM giving APNU copies of the SoPs, saying that this is exactly what GECOM had done to the AFC after the results of the 2006 elections were declared. He said that this allowed the party to make its own checks and to then go to the courts to contest the seat in Region 10 that the party had won. While the courts eventually ruled in the favour of the AFC, it never got to occupy the seat which was given to the PPP/C.

Ramjattan said that if the APNU had grievances it should use the legal mechanisms, noting that discrepancies in the SoPs could be used as the basis for an elections petition.  “Use the legitimate methods as provided under the law,” Ramjattan said while emphasizing that the AFC wanted the laws of the country to be respected.

Meanwhile, GECOM in its release said that the Commission had pointed out at the meeting that the declaration of the 2011 General and Regional Elections was the earliest in the last five elections.

Seals

Regarding the red ballot box seals publicly displayed by APNU, the PSC said that it was informed that those seals were cut and removed from the Ballot Boxes immediately prior to the commencement of the voting on Election Day.

“These seals were placed on the Ballot Boxes, in the presence of Party Agents and Local and Foreign Observers before they were transported (under Police escort) from GECOM to the Polling Stations,” the PSC stated in its release.

“The seals publicly displayed by APNU are in no way, shape or form linked to the integrity of the ballots cast by the electorate, the release added.   “The Inter-national Independent Techni-cal Assessor who was present at the Meeting pointed out that the seals in question reflected the function of security of the Ballot Boxes prior to the opening of the Ballot Boxes for the commencement of voting. The seals were removed from the Ballot Boxes at the opening of the Ballot Boxes and were discarded.

It was emphasized that, at the end of the poll, in addition to the five seals placed on the Ballot Boxes, each Party Agent present further placed security tapes on the Ballot Boxes,” the PSC said.

On the matter of the Certificates of Employment being issued to party agents for them to vote at the respective polling stations where they were assigned duty, Surujbally told the PSC that “some over-zealous Return-ing Officers” had issued a number of the certificates unknown to the senior GECOM staff.
These certificates, however, were withdrawn as soon as they were discovered the release said.

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