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Paying politicians on ECJ

Published:Thursday | May 3, 2012 | 12:00 AM

PAYING POLITICIANS on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) from government coffers is fraught with many problems. As Edward Warmington, member of parliament, asserted, the political representatives are there in the interest of their respective political parties and should instead be paid by the political parties. No one can argue with that reasoning.

Under the Electoral Advisory Committee, predecessor to the ECJ, it was the selected or independent members who should have been paid at the rate not below that of a judge. Therefore, it is not necessary to pay members nominated by the political party. In any case, it is not clear whether all nominated members are paid by the State, because in a Gleaner December 3, 2010 news item (Duncan appointed to Electoral Commission) it stated that Senator Tom Tavares-Finson, a nominated member, is not paid from the public purse.

No compelling reason

There are not any compelling reasons why political representatives should be paid by the State since they are not there as consultants to the ECJ. They are there to look out for narrow partisan interests and that one side does not get an upper hand or unfair advantage.

Furthermore, there appears to be a pay anomaly within the state apparatus. The regulations state that the emoluments payable to a selected member shall not be less than the emoluments which may, from time to time, be payable to a judge, which is approximately $8 million. However, it cannot be that a nominated member is paid more than a minister of national security, whose job is crucial for the peace and prosperity of the nation. How could it be justified that $8 million is paid to a nominated member and not to a director of public prosecutions, contractor general or commissioner of police based on importance and difficulty of the job?

But there is a more fundamental point than whether political representatives on the ECJ should be paid by the State: it is whether they should be part of the commission at all. According to the 2006 act, the role of the ECJ is to protect the electoral process from the immediate direction, influence and control of the Government, which may influence its functioning to the detriment of persons with opposing views who may wish to participate in the process. Though having persons from the PNP and JLP removes the commission from control of government, it does not prevent both parties using their collective influence to the detriment of minor parties and independent candidates. Who looks out for the interest of the National Democratic Movement and the independent councillor in Trelawny, Paul Patmore?

Other responsibilities

The other functions of the ECJ are to conduct general elections, by-elections or referenda, and to be responsible for compiling and maintaining the register of eligible electors; verifying the identity of every eligible elector; approving political parties eligible to receive state funding; and administering electoral funding and financial disclosure requirements. These things can be achieved without political parties having a seat at the table. All that is needed is for the ECJ to consult with major parties, minor parties, independent candidates and civic organisations.

Additionally, the rationale for having political representatives on the ECJ was to ensure that recommendations from the ECJ are not challenged or changed and are accepted by both sides in Parliament. However, in the last three years, the political representatives on the ECJ have not prevented members of both major parties from questioning the recommendations from the ECJ. This is a clear sign that the positions for political representatives on the ECJ are now redundant and the only pay that should be considered for the holders of such positions is redundancy pay.

Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew.