Friday, May 11, 2007

2006 election audit

“The 2006 legislative elections were reasonably well conducted. Candidates were free to campaign and present their platforms to voters through public gatherings and media events. Voting and counting were generally conducted in a satisfactory and transparent manner and the secrecy of the vote was assured.” EU Election Observation Mission Fiji 2006 Report. The outcome of the report of the audit team from the Ministry of Finance on the 2006 general elections was expected. The claim of electoral fraud has been continuously made by the leader of the Fiji Labour Party, Mahendra Chaudhry, who is now the Interim Minister for Finance. He is also in a very powerful position and as he appoints the people to carry out this special audit. In an interview with Phil Mercer of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on September 6, 2001 Mr Chaudhry said: “The Fiji Labour Party suspects a massive electoral fraud has been perpetrated on the voters of Fiji.” He alleged there was widespread vote rigging in Fiji’s general election. He said electoral fraud could cost his Fiji Labour Party the chance of forming the next government.
Mr Chaudhry has also claimed hundreds of votes were smuggled into counting centres by the caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase-led Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL). Caretaker Prime Minister Qarase denied there was vote rigging and challenged Mr Chaudhry to prove his claims. International observers from the United Nations, the British Commonwealth and the European Union all said the election - the first since Mr Chaudhry was toppled in the May 2000 coup - was free and fair. In the 2006 elections Mr Chaudhry claimed that excessive ballot papers had been printed, opening the way for tampering with the result. The Supervisor of Elections, Semesa Karavaki, denied the claims, saying all ballot papers were under police guard. Prime Minister Qarase also dismissed Mr Chaudhry’s complaints. Mr Chaudhry blamed Prime Minister Qarase, his indigenous SDL party and Mr Karavaki for what he said was a series of irregularities. Mr Karavaki and the Government rejected Mr Chaudhry’s claims. “Some of his story is made up in order to sew some kind of picture that is not right,” Mr Karavaki told a media conference.
The new audit found that more than 600,000 unused ballot papers printed for the 2006 general elections were missing. The audit team also found the Elections Office failed to keep a diligent record of ballot papers issued to polling stations or to ensure that proper returns were filled by every returning officer at the end of the polls as required by the Electoral Act. It also found the Supervisor of Elections office guilty of gross extravagance, wastage, failure to keep within budgetary allocations, failure to return equipment and failure to submit reports on funds spent as required under the Public Service accountability procedures. Mr Chaudhry said: “These are very serious breaches of the Electoral Act and the public service regulations. They are tantamount to gross dereliction of duty, if not direct attempts to interfere with and manipulate the results of the 2006 general elections. “The mere fact that a total of 665,256 unused ballot papers are unaccounted for is in itself sufficient to raise serious questions about the credibility and integrity of the 2006 general elections.” A detailed audit of ballot papers was impossible because the Elections Office:
* did not keep a record of ballot papers issued to each polling station;
* failed to maintain a master record of ballot papers against which reconciliation could be carried out of unused ballot papers;
* did not carry out a reconciliation of used/unused/spoilt ballot papers after the elections as required under the Electoral Act.
* Moreover, it was noted that a large quantity of allegedly spoilt and unused ballot papers were burnt by the Elections Office in direct breach of the Electoral Act. The reason given was “administrative error”.
* The Supervisor of Election is required by law to gazette the results of a general elections based on reports submitted by returning officers.
The audit report found that the report as gazetted by the elections supervisor contradicts reports submitted by returning officers.
“ Not all returning officers submitted reports after polling to the Elections Office as required under the Electoral Act.
Replying to the audit report yesterday Mr Karavaki said it was very unfortunate that Mr Chaudhry was involved.
“Mr Chaudhry is the last person to appoint a team to carry out an audit because of his vested interests,” said Mr Karavaki.
He said his office had carried out an audit and this report was with him but did not act on it because of the coup.
This report, he said, was given to the audit team but Mr Chaudhry did not accept it.

Mr Karavaki confirmed he was told that the team submitted three reports but these were thrown away by Mr Chaudhry.“He had given specific instructions to the team on what to look for.” Mr Karavaki said he had a heated debate with Mr Chaudhry after the elections and the FLP leader told him: “You will be a sorry man when all this is done.:” In reply to this Mr Karavaki told Mr Chaudhry: “You must remember that Fiji does not need people like you.” In a report submitted to the European Union Election Observation Mission Fiji 2006 Mr Karavaki said the total number of ballot papers printed and numbered was 1,778,900. (The special audit report said 1,985,640). This total included 120,000 ballot papers printed. For each constituency, an extra contingency of 2,000 ballot papers without serial numbers were printed and kept at the Government Printers. Each voter received two ballot papers - one for their communal constituency and one for their open constituency. The total number of ballot papers of 1,900,000 divided by two resulted in 950,000 ballots for communal and 950,000 for open constituency elections and exceeded the number of 479,000 registered voters by 471,000 or almost 100 per cent.
The number of printed ballot papers was high partly because voters were entitled to vote in any polling station in their communal constituency. However, despite the large umber of extra ballot papers, some polling stations experienced shortages. The high number of papers in circulation also increased the difficulties in accounting for all of the unused ballot papers. However, there were no indications of any abuse or manipulation in connection with the high number of printed ballot papers. According to the report the ballot papers printed had several deficiencies. Firstly, the office of the Supervisor of Elections, contrary to the constitutional requirement, provided only ballot papers in English to the voters, thereby placing at a disadvantage voters who were only literate in Fijian or Hindustani. Secondly the quality of the paper used was so poor that the official stamp on the back of the papers was visible on the front side, thereby obscuring some party symbols.
Third, the placing of party symbols below the line next to the box for ticking the candidate was confusing as political parties had told voters to tick next to their party symbols. Finally, the above the line and below sections of the ballot papers were not well enough separated and indicated. The late and repeated discovery of mistakes on the postal ballot papers obliged the office of the Supervisor of Elections to reprint a substantial amount, which led to the late delivery of papers to some polling stations. Despite all corrections, the name of Mr Mick Beddoes, the leader of the United Peoples Party (UPP) remained misspelled on the final ballot paper. Surely this report clearly outlined the reasons why extra papers were printed. The missing ballot papers according to Mr Karavaki are with the commissioners’ offices. We have heard Mr Karavaki’s side of the story. Who is telling lies to the nation? The credibility of this report is questionable.
It specifically addresses the concerns usually raised by the FLP leader. Surely, the audit team should have gone through election classes before carrying out this task. We now have a report that has been forwarded to the Corruption Unit for further investigation. Is this fair? Surely if the audit team had gone to the right people, they could have been given the correct information on the excess print of ballot papers and other information needed by Mr Chaudhry. What was the motive behind the audit? We must all be mindful that the members of the pubic should be fed with correct information.

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