Thu | Jun 21, 2018

Devon Dick | The governor general should intervene in ECJ

Published:Thursday | May 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The serious allegations made by former director of elections, Orrette Fisher, concerning political influence on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) continues (Gleaner, May 15). It is time for the governor general to intervene.

It is the governor general who appointed the four selected independent members of the commission, so he has the right to demand a report from them as well as to hear both sides of the story and make a ruling. This is too important a body to run the risk of a smear and having a cloud hanging over its head. Jamaica has had turbulent general elections, the worst one being in 1980. I had worked then as a presiding officer in the St. Thomas Eastern constituency and tensions were high. Since then, Jamaica has got high marks for the Electoral Commission and electoral system, and this has to be protected from even the appearance of undue influence of a political partisan nature.

The charge of political influence must be about undue influence, as influence is what is required of all members of the commission. All representatives should have the expertise, experience and etiquette to effect the development of the electoral process for the better. However, undue influence is a disproportionate effect on the process and could involve coercion, badgering, manipulation or deceit. In addition, the director must have meant partisan political and not just political. Partisan political, as opposed to a generic political, is to have an unfair advantage in the electoral process for narrow party interest. It seems obvious that the charge is about undue influence of a partisan political nature, and that is serious.

Let us hope that the charge is not against any of the independent members, namely Chairman Dorothy Pine-McLarty, Justice Karl Harrison, Professor Alvin Wint and Earl Jarrett. That would mean the governor general would have a decision to make. The political representatives are: For the government, Senator Tom Tavares-Finson and Aundre Franklyn, while Julian Robinson and Senator Wensworth Skeffery represent the People's National Party (PNP). So who is the finger pointing at?

 

TARNISHED LEGACY

 

But, then again, could it be the Director of Elections who is bringing partisan politics into the ECJ? Formerly, the country would not countenance such a thought but a former director of elections ran for the position of MP for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). In a previous article I bemoaned that development. A former director of elections, chief justice, commissioner of police, chief of defence and governor general should be barred from ever participating in representational politics. It tarnishes the legacy and raises suspicions about the current holder of the office.

It is not enough for the chairman to say meetings are robust. When I was a deputy returning officer in St James, there were robust discussions between the candidates Charles Sinclair (JLP) and Carl Miller (PNP) but it was never malicious, abusive or rude. And the final decision was made by us and it was respected. The issue is whether comments made in meetings are abusive, malicious and rude. Persons have complained about some politicians and how they speak to people and to one another, and the prime minister has warned that certain behaviour cannot be taken to the new parliament.

Furthermore, the director of elections has made specific charges so the investigation should be easy to verify. The director of elections said he felt threatened and intimidated. Our workers, serving the nation, need to work in an environment that is free from fear, and that is fair, otherwise we make a mockery of Labour Day and the rights of workers. Furthermore, the four selected members are distinguished, outstanding Jamaicans, and Fisher is known as a competent director with integrity so we need to get to the bottom of this.

Over to the governor general.

- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.