With the postponement of a press briefing scheduled for today at Independence Hall, the Elections and Boundaries Department had the floor to explain to Belizeans why the threshold of 30% for the recall of Cayo Northeast area representative Elvin Penner was not met by the petition presented last November.
1,665 signatures representing registered voters in the division were accepted, but that is 79 short of the total 1,774 required for the recall to proceed. The remaining 337 signatures were rejected for various reasons, as explained by Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai.
“Signatures were rejected for the following reasons: 52 because the signatures did not match, another 52 because those persons were not registered in the Cayo Northeast Electoral Division; another 52 signed , but the persons are not registered. Again, 11 had no signature; we had 79 petitioners who signed twice which resulted in 158 duplicate entries. They also had petitioners who signed three times which resulted in 12 triplicate entries. The Governor Gweneral was also advised of the following: There was one name which appeared in the list submitted. However, neither the name nor the signature was included in the petition. As a result, the name could not be considered in the verification process”.
Investigations were carried out by the Department as to individuals who marked the petition with thumbprints or X marks, which are allowed as signatures, and only three were not able to be reached for various reasons including illness and death. Of these, 7 signed the petition twice, which constitutes an offence under the law. The process of verifying the signatures took many hours and involved some investigation on the part of the Department. But as Tamai told reporters today, that was only to a certain point.
“I must say that in terms of the investigation, there is a reason why the Act specifies that this be conducted by the Elections and Boundaries Department; Our verification exercise is to verify the signatures. We are the ones who have documents at the Elections and Boundaries Department to verify the signatures. So, the documents what is being used to verify. We find that for some reason , the documents are not enough. Then, we proceed further in terms of investigation but like I said, it is not possible and almost impossible to go out and verify every single signature because like I said, at the end of the day that’s the reason why the Elections and Boundaries Department is task with that exercise.
The Recall of Elected Representatives Act of 2010 provides that only one petition can be lodged in each division per term of the Government, effectively ending the hopes of the PUP to unseat Penner before a general election. Tamai denied that there was any attempt to intimidate any of the public officers who worked to verify the signatures.
Ms. Josephine Tamai: “Well I must tell you, it really isn’t a concern because, at the end of the day, we are mandated to carry on this exercise in accordance with the Elected Representatives Act, it doesn’t matter who the government is or who presented the petition. We deal with a matter with what is being presented to us and we work with the information presented despite whoever. Actually, we received it from the Governor General. To be honest with you, who submitted to the Governor General, I don’t even know. Now, I have an idea based on the response when we wrote to the Governor General to seek assistance from the persons, so that we can locate these three persons because apart from that, just hearing the media and whoever it is, it really something we receive from the Governor General. We don’t receive it from any specific group or from any political party as such because regardless of whoever send it to us, it doesn’t matter. We have a job to do and we will conduct it of whoever under this Act”.
Ms. Josephine Tamai: “I will go on record to say that there was never any interference. As we mentioned, we had very senior public officers to assist the Department, and these very senior public officers, as I mentioned, are deputies and assistants heads of Departments.
The PUP will provide a response to the press tomorrow at Independence Hall at 2:00 P.M.