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Our electoral machinery

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Within a short period of time this year we would have had three general elections in CARICOM. Since elections could be called at any time within a five-year period, should we not ensure that our electoral machinery is finetuned and in good shape when the call is made? Members of the party that controls the reins of government are always quick to point ‘thumbs up’ to the reports given by Observer Missions. But there are concerns about these missions that demand closer examination. It will appear that their emphasis is on what happens on election day, after which they give an all-clear, suggesting that things went smoothly. But on the ground, we realize that challenges and problems start long before the day of election. The missions assemble in the country a mere few days before elections, when the process is already in place.

Admittedly, they meet with stakeholders, including the different political parties, individuals, and civic organizations and are informed about issues that have arisen. They are at that point only able to make recommendations. So, recommendations are made, but little is done to implement them. Then they come back next time, declare the elections free and fair, and then proceed to repeat and sometimes add to their recommendations. What is the point of the recommendations, if they conclude that failure to implement them does not affect the outcome of the elections?

But do we see any validity in these recommendations and to what extent are we attempting to implement them? I have quickly re-examined reports from the OAS and the Commonwealth after the 2015 elections.Two things that repeat themselves are the need for campaign financing legislation and the removal of the 15-day registration period. The OAS, in looking at areas where improvement was needed, pointed to Central Leeward and challenges they identified. They noted “some disquieting issues” that referred mainly “to the incorrect application of seals, the absence of the Presiding Officer’s stamp and initials on some ballots and the possible partiality of the returning officer who conducted this recount.” Their recommendation was simply to “ensure better training and stricter guidelines and procedures for poll workers in conducting the Final Count at polling stations.” Of course, this is not the first election to be conducted in SVG. So, is this a perpetual problem?

The Commonwealth team wants to see before the next election, “a regulatory framework governing campaign financing… in order to promote fairness, transparency and accountability.” What happens if nothing is done before the next election? Well, the answer is simple. They come back and repeat their recommendations ad infinitum. They recommended too, that Civil Service Orders and “any existing code of conduct for Police Officers is urgently reviewed and amended to ensure public servants operate in a manner that does not undermine the trust that citizens place in governance institutions and their standard bearers.”

It recommends too that consideration be given “to amend the laws in order to enable the creation of an independent electoral management body”. Media practitioners are urged to “establish an independent media council to strengthen the capacity of the media to buttress and deepen accountable governance in SVG”. The Commonwealth team identified as one of the biggest concerns by stakeholders, “the unusually high number of transfers, and, integrally, the voter registration process itself.”

I have only pulled out a few of the comments and recommendations made by two of the Observer Missions. Have they been seriously studied or to be regarded simply as rubber stamps? Are we prepared to leave it up to the missions to repeat their recommendations next time around and let it be business as usual?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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