PART II: THE AUTHORITY OF PM SKERRIT TO APPOINT RETIRED CARIBBEAN JURIST SIR CHARLES M. DENNIS BYRON AS SOLE ELECTION COMMISSIONER: THE SCOPE OF HIS CONSULTANCY FOR ELECTORAL REFORM
The Prime Minister keeps referring to his appointee Sir Byron as the “Sole Electoral Reform Commissioner”. The media headlines in Dominica read, “Dominica Cabinet approves appointment of Sir Dennis Byron as Sole Electoral Reform Commissioner.” But to this author no Electoral law or the Constitution of Dominica recognizes such appointment. At most, Sir Byron is merely a paid or unpaid consultant or advisor to the government of Dominica on electoral reform. He is no Electoral Commissioner as contemplated by our Constitution. Sir Byron is not appointed to a role on or by any Commission. He is not being constitutionally or legally commissioned to act in any official capacity as a government official with supreme representative authority. He is merely invited at the service of the government to give an air of judicial legitimacy to the corrupt influence of Labour on our electoral system.
Beyond every doubt, everyone desires effective electoral reform after 20 years of abuse and the brazen corrupt influence of Labour on our system. However, we want all efforts in that regard to be transparent, clear and in strict compliance with the letter and spirit of the law. So far, something seems to be adrift with the appointment of Sir Byron as the “Sole Elections Commissioner” of PM Skerrit in the absence of an appointed Chairman of the constitutionally mandated Electoral Commission pursuant to Section 56 of our Constitution.
We DO NOT trust Skerrit and the DLP government with their electoral reform agenda, which seeks to legalize, legitimize and normalize the criminal conducts of cheating, bribery and treating among other nefarious electoral practices. Therefore, notwithstanding the eminence of retired Chief Justice Byron, we cannot trust him unless we have the terms and reference of his appointment and he is referred to as per his function – a political appointee to provide legal advice on electoral reform.
Of course, one cannot dispute the qualification, experience and capabilities of the retired Chief Justice. Sir Byron is well qualified and fitted to undertake the assignment. The gentleman has distinguished himself in private practice as a Barrister-at-Law and Solicitor throughout the Leeward Islands from 1966 to 1982, when his judicial career began with his appointment as a High Court Judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. In 1999, Judge Byron acted Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court for two years before he was appointed to the role. Justice Byron has also served as President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) from 2004 until he joined the CCJ in 2011. During his tenure as Acting Chief Justice, Justice Byron made the establishment of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Judicial Reform Programme a matter of high priority and in 1997 he launched the Judicial Education Institute as a Committee of the Chief Justice’s Chambers. The Committee produced a Code of Ethics for Judges, and organised a series of seminars and training programmes providing orientation for Judges, lawyers and trial Court Registrars. This Programme was a prelude to the modernization of practice and procedure in litigation. It was brought to fruition when Justice Byron introduced the new Civil Procedure Rules 2000, which came into operation as of 31 December 2000 thereby introducing case flow management to the civil process. With these reforms, Mr. Justice Byron set a three‐fold objective, namely, the enhancement of public access to the Court by simplifying procedures, the inculcation of a higher standard of professionalism at the Bar and the reduction of the delay in litigation- the latter two which we are yet to fully achieve in Dominica.
Over the last few years, we have witnessed attempts by the Skerrit led DLP administration to push down arbitrary electoral reform measures down our civic throats and smuggling unwelcomed draconian proposals from the dark back door of a mini dictator seemingly with the aim to highjack the process of electoral reform in Dominica in the usual deceitful manner. The repeated lies and dishonest behavior of the DLP are therefore sufficient reasons to keep us on guard with the appointment of the retired Chief Justice, notwithstanding his eminence as an international jurist. Sadly, he mingles with unclean bullies and therefore we are skeptical of infection by fleas mindful that birds of a feather usually flock together. Therefore, although all political parties in Dominica agree on the need for electoral reform in Dominica, the genuineness of the proposals advanced by the respective parties on specific reform measures and how to implement such reforms are in dispute.
Proposed amendments of the Registration of Electors Act as recommended by the DLP-administration for confirmation or registration of Dominicans living overseas have become a sticking point just as the issue of normalizing bribery and treating, particularly with respect to the transportation of overseas voters to participate in general elections with an outdated Register of voters, without appropriate Voter ID cards and in the absence of campaign financing regulations.
The DLP has been adamant in championing a false claim that it will not allow any Dominican to be disenfranchised of a vote whether they are on the island or overseas. According to PM Skerrit, as long as he is Prime Minister of Dominica, he will not allow anybody to seek to disenfranchise Dominicans from voting, including Dominicans resident overseas. The DLP has therefore proposed the following outrageous amendments to our electoral Act, “In order to facilitate confirmation in accordance with this part of persons residing overseas, the office of any mission or embassy of the State or any other place approved by the Commission may be designated as a registration office and the registering, enrolment officer and assistant registering officer shall be appointed under the direction of the Chief Registering Officer for that purpose.”
“Dominicans resident overseas are Dominicans”, he repeatedly states, which includes the thousands of CBI citizens, who are empowered with the same constitutional rights as born Dominicans, something that we hope Sir Byron will advise against.
PM Skerrit has misrepresented the position of those who oppose his ridiculous proposed reform by stating that it is a retrogressive step when other countries are seeking to embrace the diaspora and their citizens living elsewhere that Dominica should seek to cut Dominicans off from their contribution to the island. He once opined, “There is no way that this government will allow this to happen, there is no way we will go to parliament to pass legislation that will seek to disenfranchise persons on the voters’ list…So those who want us to go to Parliament to remove Dominicans who are on the voters’ list legitimately because they are residing overseas, that will not happen.” On the other hand, the UWP has advanced a very clear position on that matter, resolutely opposed to the proposed Amendments to the Registration of Elector’s Act seeking to authorize confirmation of persons on the list of eligible voters at specially designated registration offices overseas. The UWP rejects the explanation of the government that such action is necessary to protect the right to vote and it’s it an infringement of voters living overseas. This is seriously flawed and absolutely without merit, according to the leader of the party.
According to Linton, “the UWP will not retreat from its position on the matter, saying that citizens vote in Dominica for a government to run the affairs of Dominica for Dominicans living in Dominica. Under the existing laws citizens who are entitled to vote become qualified to vote by being resident in a particular polling district in Dominica for at least three months prior to registration….a violation of the residency requirement by being absent from Dominica for more than five (5) years disqualifies that citizen of being on the list of eligible voters.” However, a disqualified voter does not lose the right or the entitlement to vote and can easily be qualified again through the re-registration process provided in our election laws. In that regard, it is hoped that Sir Byron will advise the government that the only way to present fairness to all and to prevent the government from involvement in states sponsored actions that disenfranchise some overseas voters at the expense of others is to ensure a voter confirmation process exclusively in Dominica every election cycle.
The Alternative People’s Party of Dominica, (APP) has also advanced its position for reforming the electoral system of Dominica modeled on what it claims are the ideal of Former President of Dominica Dr. Nicholas. Liverpool, who believed that the vote has been the most powerful force for change in community. In that regard, the APP has advanced what it calls “Vote In Place (VIP)” for Dominicans at home and in the Diaspora. Accordingly, Dominicans residing overseas will vote there, giving every Dominican citizen who wishes to and is duly qualified to vote an opportunity to vote for government representatives of their choice. VIP is therefore central to the party’s electoral platform as a way forward to include the diaspora in the electoral process in Dominica. APP believes that his would create two additional voting constituencies in the diaspora, one in the Northern hemisphere and the other covering the Southern hemisphere of the globe. Dominicans who reside anywhere in either hemisphere and are qualified to vote will be able to do so. Whatever the merits or demerits of this proposal, its implementation logistics may require further refinement and hopefully, when APP speaks to Sir Byron, the legislative impact and operationalization of this proposal will be fine-tuned.
Justice Byron will learn that in every election in Dominica since 2000, the corrupting actions of DLP have negatively influenced our electoral process. Since 2005 and especially in 2009, 2014 and 2019, Dominicans have complained of about the abuse of incumbent advantage and the corrupt practices of the DLP administration. There has been significant concerns raised with respect to potential violation of our election laws with regard to the transportation of voters and the matter involving allegations of treating remains unresolved in the courts with respect to the 2014 elections.
Hopefully, Justice Byron will be able to address these concerns and make our laws clearer with respect to election offences. He will outline clear parameters on matters that must be addressed by the High Court vs those that can be addressed as summary criminal offences before the magistrate court-if such is to be allowed as clearly outlined in our electoral laws. In other words, the sharp difference between the majority in judgment of Hon. Mr. Mario Michel and Hon. Mr. Paul Webster, and the dissenting opinion Madame Louise Esther Blenman in the treating case brought by Antoine Defoe, Mervin John Baptiste, and Edingcot St. Valle will resolved constitutionally and legislatively rather that judicially. Again, it is hoped that Sir Byron will address the frustrations of Dominicans with respect of increasing allegation of corruption, and complaints of fraud, the bloated voters’ lists, the voting of dead people or personation after the 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2014 elections.
Justice Byron must address the issue of ID cards for voting and campaign financing. He must advise the government whether it is necessary for parliament to give the Electoral Commission the legal authority to issue National or Voters ID cards as part of electoral reform process or to what extent the constitutionally constituted Electoral Commission already possess the legislative authority to issue a Voter ID card to legally qualified voters.
Perhaps Justice Byron will also provide some clarity to the judgement of Sir Vincent Floissac CJ Randolph Russell et al v A-G (1995) 50 WIR 127 in which he stated that the appointment of a Constituency Boundaries Commission, which is also part of section 56 of our Constitution is directory rather than mandatory and accordingly where there is no properly constituted Commission, this would not warrant setting aside an election. In other words, when the term “there shall be” a Commission is used in section 56 of our Constitution, it may be directory in nature as a procedural command in legislation rather than mandatory. In that regard, we do not really require a properly constituted, functioning Electoral Commission and it may suffice to have a Skerrit-appointed Sole Electoral Commissioner.