Monday, December 18, 2017

Bacchanal at Agricultural Society elections again


Ballots cast: Farmers cast their votes at yesterday’s Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago AGM, which took place in spite of the proceedings having been declared “null and void” by the Society’s secretary, over what she said was a procedural irregularity.

Mark Fraser

For the third consecutive year confusion reigned at the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago annual general meeting (AGM), with farmers voting in yesterday’s scheduled election - in spite of a declaration by the Society’s secretary that the process was null and void.

Secretary Gainel Seenath, citing an omission in vital procedure, made the announcement after the Society’s AGM, which was held prior to the polls being opened at the Centre of Excellence in Macoya yesterday.

Seenath claimed she was prevented from reading the Society’s Financial Statement during the closed door AGM, a part of the electoral procedure.

Without that step being observed, any election that follows is considered null and void, Seenath said.

In spite of Seenath’s position being supported by Senior Legal Officer at the Ministry of Food Production, Natasha Hosein, the elections took place after the AGM.

In the midst of this, about 100 angry farmers were on the scene, complaining that they arrived late and were locked out of the AGM and voting process.

Food Production minister, Devant Maharaj, who is currently in Berlin, Germany for International Green Week, a gathering of agricultural ministers, said he was informed of yesterday’s events and he is expecting a report on the matter on his return.

Maharaj, who has butted head a number of times with former Society president, Dhano Sookoo, said the report will play a part in determining whether the elections must be held again.

Sookoo did not contest the elections for medical reasons.

The chaos erupted inside the AGM and when Seenath emerged, she told the media that she had declared any electoral process to be null and void.

Seenath that she was on the one hand being told that she still had the authority to conduct the AGM but one the other, she was forced to end prematurely by another faction, without having had the chance to publicise the financial statement.

She was supported by Hosein, who said:

“I am seeing a lot of irregularities with the election process and the secretary has the legal authority to call the elections null and void, which she has done but the election provider is continuing with the elections.”

In the meantime, some farmers found themselves in a scuffle with police officers as they protested the fact that they were not allowed inside the AGM nor allowed to vote, having arrived too late to register within the stipulated period.

The farmers said they supported the declaration by Seenath that the process, which eventually went on uninterrupted, was null and void.

Sookoo, who was present, challenged the women and said Seenath had no legal authority to halt the elections.

The past-president said Seenath passed on several opportunities to present the financial statement and the election was the “business of the financial membership of the Society”.

Sookoo has in the past stood accused by some parts of the membership and members of the Board of the Society of financial impropriety.

She has denied paying herself tens of thousands of dollars out of the Society’s kitty but under orders from Maharaj, is being probed by the Fraud Squad.

Maharaj said via telephone yesterday that he is keen to read the ministry officer’s report in the day’s events.

“I have been kept abreast and I am aware that there were possibly a number of irregularities in yesterday’s proceedings,” Maharaj said.

“I’ve been told that there were virtually campaign activities being carried out, including the use of the logos and T-shirts bearing logos, even the filling of ballots on behalf of other people.

“With regard to the financial statement not being read, I would have thought that given the irregularities of the past year, that activity would have been of interest to most people. It is very strange that this was not permitted.”

Maharaj said he will be guided by the reports from Seenath and Hosein and will determine from there whether the results of yesterday’s voting are acceptable.

“I will wait to read the report and its recommendations. If the election was conducted free and fair, I will accept the results,” he said.