Wed | Aug 21, 2019

No voters' list money - Phillips raps gov't for not funding the cleaning of electors list

Published:Friday | March 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips (left) greets students (from right) Makeda Ankle, Zoe-Anne Clarke and Mickaylia Blackwood prior to entering Gordon House in Kingston to make his contribution to the Budget Debate yesterday.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has suggested that former director of elections Orrette Fisher was pressured out of his job because of his agitation for a reverification of the current voters' list.

In his contribution to the Budget Debate in Parliament yesterday, Phillips also accused the Andrew Holness administration of using its control of the public purse to impede announced plans to clean up the voters' list.

"I cannot be any more earnest. I cannot be any more passionate about the need for us not to go down the road of using the power of finances to stymie the work of the Electoral Commission," Phillips charged yesterday during his contribution to the Budget Debate in Parliament.

The resignation of Fisher, earlier this week, became a matter of concern for Phillips, who questioned whether Fisher's push for a reverification of the voters' list was linked to attempts at separating him from his job.

Noting that Fisher spoke publicly about the need for a reverification exercise, Phillips said: "One must ask the question, is that why he was abused and thrown out because he was supportive and insistent on a reverification? We are going down a dangerous road."

Last year, Finance and the Public Service Minister Audley Shaw said that the Government would allocate $2.5 billion over two years to ensure that a clean voters' list was provided.

Phillips argued that when Shaw made the announcement, both sides of the political divide in Gordon House gave unanimous support to carrying out the reverification exercise.

The administration set aside $700 million in the 2017-2018 Budget to clean up the voters' list, but the sum was removed when the supplementary estimates was tabled.

Phillips said that the matter was raised during debate on the supplementary estimates, at which point Shaw gave the assurance that the funds would be replaced in the Budget of 2018-2019.

However, Shaw explained that Cabinet had overruled his decision, giving priority to national security and the rule of law. Shaw said that sums had been reallocated to tackle the soaring murder rate and crime problem plaguing the country.

The opposition leader said that there was urgent need for the country to have a clean voters' list to ensure that elections were free and fair.

He insisted that if Jamaicans lost confidence in the integrity of the electoral system, "we are opening the door to electoral manipulation, which will inevitably lead to conflict. We have been this way before".

Highlighting the importance of maintaining what he described as the sanctity of Parliament, Phillips indicated that the parliamentary Opposition should be able to rely on the word of a minister of government when he says, 'I give my commitment' to pursuing a matter.

Phillips charged that a similar commitment was made in 1983 that the administration of the day would not call an election on the then voters' list until a new list had been prepared.

"That commitment was breached, and we know what happened in the 1983 so-called bogus election. It created a national constitutional crisis. Let us not go there again," Phillips added.

In 1983, the Opposition, led by the late Michael Manley, did not contest what was then termed a snap election, which gave the Edward Seaga-led Jamaica Labour Party all 60 seats in Parliament.