Costly contests- Elections could dip into ailing gov't coffers

Published: Wednesday | March 4, 2009

Arthur Hall, Senior Staff Reporter

It could cost the country up to $160 million if by-elections are held in the four constituencies where there are allegations that persons elected in the 2007 general election are not qualified to sit in the House of Representatives.

With the courts having already ruled on one of the four, West Portland, and a by-election ordered, the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) yesterday disclosed that the Government would have to come up with between $30 million and $40 million to finance the March 23 contest.

Other possible by-elections

By-elections could also be ordered in North West Clarendon, North East St Catherine and North East St Ann where government MPs Michael Stern, Gregory Mair and Shahine Robinson are facing court battles to retain their seats in the face of allegations they have sworn allegiance to a foreign state.

This could provide a challenge for the EOJ, which would have to look to central government for financing.

"We never have the money not even for a general election in our normal budget. What we do is once the election is announced, we prepare for it and that is when we get the money," Orrette Fisher, director of elections, told The Gleaner yesterday.

The 2008-2009 estimates of expenditure allocated $714 million to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica for administrative expenses and the continuous registration of voters with only $6 million of this amount set aside to purchase goods and services for the holding of elections.

EOJ in election mode

But that has not stopped the EOJ which moved into high gear last Friday when it received word of the pending by-election in West Portland.

"We have signed off on the polling stations and will be using the electronic verification of voters," Fisher said.

Just under 19,000 persons are registered to vote in West Portland on the November 2008 voters' list which will be used in the by-election.

This is almost 1,000 more voters than the 17,963 persons on the list for the 2007 general election.

This will be the first election to be conducted by the EOJ since Fisher was appointed director.

The Jamaica Labour Party's Daryl Vaz and the People's National Party's Kenneth Rowe are expected to be nominated on Friday to contest the election.