Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Orrette Fisher | I stand by findings of boundaries report

Published:Saturday | September 30, 2017 | 12:04 AM
Orrette Fisher

I write on behalf of the members of staff of the Electoral Office who have been left demoralised by the reports carried in the media in relation to the 2016 boundaries report to Parliament.

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) submitted its report in March 2016 recommending changes to constituency boundaries that the employment of GPS technology revealed were in breach of Section 67 (2) of the second schedule of the Constitution. The Constitution prohibits constituency boundaries crossing parish boundaries.

On September 13, 2017, I read in the newspaper that the boundaries committee met and found significant errors in the report and that I would be required to attend Parliament on September 26, 2017, to provide answers. I contacted the Parliament with a view to ascertaining what the concerns were in order to prepare for the meeting. I was told a letter would be sent, which I received on September 19, 2017.

The letter from the Parliament under the signature of the acting committee coordinator did not provide any details as to concerns relating to the report. I managed to get a copy of the minutes of the committee on September 25, 2017, the day before the scheduled meeting. This again did not provide me with answers, as it simply spoke to errors.

 

Concerns

 

Had I been presented beforehand with the concerns, the team would have come to Parliament fully prepared to answer the questions. The committee took the decision to recommend to Parliament that the section of the report relating to breaches of the parish boundaries by constituencies be rejected. The decision of the committee is respected. However, I wish to be on record as stating:

- I stand by the report submitted to the Parliament.

- I stand by the hard-working members of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), in general, and in this case the members of the field staff and the Geographic Systems Department (GIS) in particular.

- Although it is the sovereign right of Parliament to reject the recommendations of the commission, as director of elections, I am uncomfortable with the electoral boundaries knowingly in breach of the Constitution and knowingly being allowed to carry forward into any future election.

In relation to reference of the EOJ being inept and incompetent, I stand by the competence of the staff who, under my watch, added three new constituencies in 2010, as well as corrected breaches in elector limit in St Ann. We have also successfully conducted four national elections, several by-elections, as well as internal elections of the two major political parties.

 

Acted within law

 

Having given 21 years of service to the EOJ, nine of those years in the capacity of director of elections, the staff and I are particularly concerned over the reference to us having ulterior motives in the review exercise. I have never done, nor have I ever instructed any member of the team to do, anything ultra vires the electoral law.

I have not sought, nor have I instructed any member of staff, to carry out any action that would knowingly give an advantage to any party or candidate. I have, over the years, promoted the principles of fairness, transparency, accountability and professionalism in all electoral undertakings.

While again acknowledging the sovereign right of Parliament to accept or reject the recommendations of the ECJ, in the interest of good governance, I am prepared to recommend to the Parliament that the Auditor General's Department, which is the primary department charged with the responsibility of ensuring integrity and accountability in the country, be asked to examine the process used by the EOJ in determining the constituencies in breach of the Constitution and to determine whether the anomalies to which the boundaries committee of Parliament has objected are, in fact, errors or are valid.

Following such rigorous scrutiny, if the report is found to be fundamentally flawed, I am prepared to accept that I am wrong and to apologise publicly to the Parliament and the people of Jamaica whom the Electoral Office serves.

- Orrette Fisher is the director of elections.

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