Confusion reigned at the annual general meeting (AGM) of the Agricultural Society yesterday, as for the second consecutive year hundreds of bonafide farmers were prevented from casting their ballots in this year's election.
Hundreds of farmers flooded the Centre of Excellence in Macoya, amid heavy police presence, prepared to cast their ballots at the society's annual elections, but to the surprise of more than a thousand farmers, who are financial members of the society, they were told that their names were not on the list of financial members and so would not be allowed to vote.
Avinash Singh, a farmer who was nominated to run for the position of vice-president at yesterday's election, said, "We have a situation here where 1,600 members have been omitted from the electoral list, being barred from their democratic rights to take part in this election."
"These are registered financial members who would have paid $100 each, so that is $160,000 of farmers' money and they are not being allowed to register to collect their ballots and take part in this election," he said.
Jensen Alexander, a former vice-president of the Agricultural Society, who was expelled from the society, which has 5,000 members, said farmers on the ground did not know the issues, but (president Dhano) Sookoo had broken the society's constitution time and time again and was now going against the ruling of Justice Judith Jones that stated that eight of them who were expelled from the society, be allowed to vote at yesterday's elections.
"I come here this morning and they can't find my name on the listing so I am wondering what is going on. Are they going against the ruling of the court where I cannot perform my democratic right? The judge said we cannot go on the ballot as candidates because of the time factor and the society would have lost a lot of money but they gave us the right to vote," he said.
Alexander said he looked on at a motion being moved with just two rows of people while hundreds of members were being barred from voting.
"I am calling on Justice Jones to find out why I could not vote and why my name that she ordered to be on the list, is not on the list this morning," he said.
As the members barred from voting began chanting "we want the right to vote" over and over, police came over and Dhano Sookoo, president of the society, who was on the platform at the front of the hall, disembarked and marched down to the back of the room and confronted Alexander and the other members who began getting rowdy.
Sookoo was immediately asked by media at the event for clarification on the issue
Sookoo explained that the court had upheld the expulsion of Alexander and seven others and admitted that part of the court's decision on the matter was to allow the eight, inclusive of Alexander, to vote at yesterday's elections.
"The court has so instructed that these gentlemen be allowed in the hall to vote but the court order says that we are restrained from preventing them from voting... What I am saying is very simple the court has told me to put the necessary procedures in place to allow these gentlemen to vote. Now that the matter has been brought to my attention I am here to ensure that the procedure is set out."
Asked about the legality of passing a motion while people were still registering, she said that she was being directed by the secretary of the society.
Addressing the police, Sookoo said, "I want to say to you all, sergeant, that I am about to allow these gentlemen to vote however, I want Mr Alexander out of this building."
She told the media that the 1,600 farmers who were barred from voting, although they had receipts and their identification cards showing that they had paid the registration fee of $100, were deemed to be part of fraudulent applications made by persons other than themselves and that the matter was now in the hands of the Fraud Squad.
"If their name is not on the financial lists it therefore means that their forms may have been one of the fraudulent ones. ," she said.
Asked why the elections were not postponed to a later date given all of the issues surrounding the exercise, Sookoo said that the elections were constitutionally due in January and that she was instructed by the court to go ahead since all logistical preparations had already been made.
"Much of the people who you see here, who have issues are those whose application forms were fraudulent. The Agricultural Society will be returning the money to those people," she said.
She said although the money was accepted by the secretary of the society it did not mean that the application was accepted.
Sookoo said the 10 a.m. closure of the doors to the hall is part of the election guidelines that the committee of management came up with and was accepted by the general membership at a meeting.
The Express was also met with complaints that there were persons campaigning for Sookoo during the AGM leading up to the election and were filling out the farmers' ballots in favour of Sookoo and her slate of candidates.
The Express got a first-hand view of the operation where several women in white T-shirts with green print to the front were seen filling out the ballot slips for the farmers.
One woman who stopped them midway after realising what they were doing showed the Express her ballot slips.
As the Express left the AGM hall we ran into scores of other farmers who showed up after the 10 a.m. scheduled time and so were locked out by police officers and they voiced their frustration.
"I have been part of the society for the past 11 years and I know the constitution says nothing about locking the doors after a certain time. If we can't go in let them give us back our money and we will come out from the Agricultural Society," one farmer said.
Christopher Jones, another farmer, said he had travelled all the way from Biche for the elections and when he got to the doors of the Centre of Excellence he was told he could not enter because it was after 10 a.m.
"That is totally unfair that can't be right. We are registered members and we come here to vote, that is not right. We come all the way from Biche, the road conditions are very bad, we meet traffic in Valencia, Sangre Grande, coming down the road so how we could reach here for 10 a.m. What time we have to leave home. They have to make allowances for people like us," Jones said.
Other farmers who were barred from entering milled around weighing their options, including leaving the Agricultural Society for good because of the problem they have encountered since 2012, in trying to cast their votes.