Sat | Jul 21, 2018

Editorial | Mrs Pine McLarty must speak

Published:Thursday | March 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM

In a body where serious questions such as how a country conducts its elections are decided, we wouldn't be surprised if the debates are robust, and, sometimes, even loud and emotive. Moreover, Orrett Fisher, until lately director of elections, may be deemed to have motive for complaint, given his legal battle with the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) over the status of his tenure.

Nonetheless, Mr Fisher's recent, and seemingly sudden resignation, even before his case is ruled upon by the courts, with claims of political interference by the ECJ, can't merely be dismissed as a fit of peeve - without more. At the very least, the public deserves a serious and thoughtful response from Dorothy Pine McLarty, the chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), to which Mr Fisher reported.

Some important facts must be acknowledged. Not least of these is the success that the ECJ has had, in its various evolutions over nearly four decades, in rescuing the integrity of Jamaican and imbuing them with great legitimacy. Further, the selected, non-political appointees to the commission, including the current lot, have been people of integrity who have guarded their independence. That is no small part of the reasons why Jamaicans have come to trust the outcomes of their elections, believing them to reflect the will of the people.


Fisher's objection


Another significant point is Mr Fisher's objection - having previously worked on that basis - to his second interim engagement on a one-year contract and his job being publicly advertised, following the end of his seven-year appointment. He asked the courts to rule that under the law a director of election has to be appointed for seven years and had gained an injunction preventing his displacement.

Not surprisingly, most people were taken aback that he abruptly walked away a week ago, claiming that there was a "growing level of political influence" at the electoral office, while seeming to accuse Mrs Pine McLarty, unlike her predecessors, of failing to have a clear vision for the ECJ and standing her ground despite external pressures.

Mr Fisher has apparently also complained about abuse from one of the politically-appointed members of the ECJ and pushed backed against the insistence by independent commissioner, Professor Alvin Wint, that there was no evidence of political interference in the ECJ's work or the functioning of the operating unit, the electoral office. Indeed, by Mr Fisher's account, one of the independent commissioners of the ECJ was so badly abused at a meeting by a political appointee that the member walked out, promising never to return and had to be assuaged by others of his, or her colleagues.


Political interference


Whether an incident such as is recounted by Mr Fisher, presuming it happened, rose to the level of political interference, rather than over-passionate exuberance, bad manners, hubris or an attempt of intimidations, is a question to be addressed. Should be a recurring pattern of behaviour, it may well be deemed to be the latter, in which event, if it were one of the political appointees, that person should be removed by either the prime minister or the leader of the opposition, whosoever call it is.

Indeed, given the ongoing spat between the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP) over the administration's failure to vote promised money for a voter re-verification exercise - a matter that Mr Fisher championed - it is important that the country be assured that was the petard from which he swung, or that the independent commissioners have -which would be surprising - grown supine and obsequious.

While we have evidence in Professor Wint, it is critical that Mrs Pine McLarty addresses the issues from the full authority of her office.