Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Time running out! - EOJ puts Holness on notice for local gov't polls

Published:Wednesday | November 2, 2016 | 11:00 AMJovan Johnson
Fisher

If Prime Minister Andrew Holness intends to honour the law and have local government elections held by December 29, his time to announce a date is running out, as the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) says the conditions are now "less than ideal" for conducting the polls.

"My ideal, in order to be really fully prepared, is three months, but I can work with two months. You begin to get a little nervous once it goes below that," Director of Elections Orrette Fisher told The Gleaner in an interview about the preparedness of the country's election machinery.

Government members have been appearing on political platforms in recent weeks trumpeting the work of the administration since the Jamaica Labour Party's general election win in February.

But Holness has not given any indication whether the local government polls will take place this year.

Sources say a statement on the polls is likely this week.

The timeline was set last year based on laws passed, pushing back the elections that were due then.

BUDGET APPROVAL

Dr Horace Chang, general secretary of the governing Jamaica Labour Party, had said Holness had to make his decision on whether the elections will be called this year by the end of last week in order for money that the EOJ will need to make it in the supplementary budget.

That budget, Chang said, is set to go before the Parliament for approval in the first week of November. It's not clear if Holness did, and finance ministry officials' work on the budget is still ongoing.

Fisher said his office needs $1.3 billion and more than 30,000 workers to conduct the elections in 228 divisions across Jamaica, as well as the mayoral vote in Portmore, St Catherine.

"I have no formal indication from anybody that the elections will be held. Why I am doing what I am doing, in terms of preparing, is because I am aware that the election was put off to be held by the end of this year. So, until or unless I hear otherwise, I am doing whatever I can do to initiate the preparation. It is not something that can be done within the statutory time limit in terms of hiring, training and procurement and all that," he explained.

Continuing, he said: "I would do everything within my powers to ensure we have a credible election, but if I am unable, then I would be forced to make a public announcement. The law does, in fact, make allowance for the elections to be put off, and one of the grounds for elections to be put off is if the elections supplies are not in place," he told The Gleaner.

ELECTION SUPPLIEs

Suppliers have been placed on standby should the elections be called anytime now.

The elections boss said some of the supplies that would have taken a longer time to get like specially made envelopes and forms were purchased from last year when the elections were first due.

A "troubled" man Fisher said he would have been if those were not already procured and the elections were to be held in two months.

"Local government elections were scheduled to be held between March and June of 2015, so I did procure, at that time, some of the things that I would need - things that are specific to the local government elections. Had it not been for that, I would be troubled and concerned."

Under the Representation of the People Act, nomination day shall be at least five clear days after the announcement of an election. The law also provides for election day to be at least 16 days or not more than 23 days after nomination day.

The People's National Party won 12 of the 13 parish councils contested in the last local government polls held on March 26, 2012.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com