$700m for EoJ reverification project withdrawn
The Ministry of Finance (MoF) has withdrawn the $700 million it had set aside for the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EoJ) pilot reverification programme from the First Supplementary Estimates tabled on Tuesday, and the reasons for the removal did not sit well with the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC).
Opposition lawmakers questioned MoF officials present at the PAAC meeting, held to examine the estimates, and they were not pleased with the explanation offered - that the programme was no longer a priority for the current financial year, which ends on March 31, 2018.
Unlikey to start this year
Deputy Financial Secretary for Public Expenditure Lorris Jarrett said that it was always the plan for the reverification programme to start late in the financial year.
"At this point in time, with three months to go, it is not likely to start in this financial year, and as such, we have reduced it, reprioritised the budget, and we made a recommendation that that activity be taken out," Jarrett explained.
Wykeham McNeill, chairman of the committee, pressed for more and better particulars, asking whether the decision had been taken at the MoF on the Electoral Eommission.
McNeill said that there could be nothing more important than an electoral process that produced free and fair elections, adding that there was nothing from the Electoral Office of Jamaica stating that it was incapable of carrying out the programme. Jarrett said that the ministry was not abandoning the programme, while committee member Phillip Paulwell said that Jamaica would be breaching the law by not having the reverification.
"We are going to be in breach of the law because the law requires that every 10 years, you go through this process. And the ECJ (Electoral Commission of Jamaica) has been ready to start. This is a serious matter. We do not want to get back to the stage where political parties are questioning the legitimacy of our list and our elections," Paulwell insisted.
He said that the removal of the funds required serious answers.
Dangerous precedent being set - McNeill
Committee member Juliet Holness said that the Electoral Office of Jamaica's (EoJ's) programme and the National Identification System (NIDS) programme would be tantamount to doing the same thing twice, but Wykeham McNeill said that the EoJ was mandated by law to conduct the re-verification programme no matter what over-riding system was put in place.
"And I am saying, Chairman, that the reverification process could be done at the same time as the registration of persons via the national identification system," she stated.
According to Holness, Jamaica would be in a place where the persons on the voters' list would be registered through NIDS, reverified at the same time for one composite cost.
McNeill said that he would be recommending to the Parliament that the withdrawn sum be reallocated because a "dangerous precedent" was being set.