It was indeed annoying listening to a retired Inspector of Police, who is a vile stranger and bender of truth, an amateur political contortionist who repeatedly embarrasses himself by stalking and seeking to harass the hosts of all programs on Q 95 radio, particular that of the Leader of Opposition on Thursday, 25 February 2021, who was filling in as host of ‘Hot Seat’ for Matt Peltier. Without any shame, the gentleman slithered a call to the host of the program like a traumatized underage school-yard bully with the sole aim to chastise Mr. Linton for what he alleged to be the non-submission of proposals by the United Workers Party (UWP) for electoral reform in response to the unlawful call by the Chairman of the supposedly independent Electoral Commission of Dominica on behalf and directed by the DLP /government-appointed consultant.
The accusations of the DLP radio bandit was disturbing, aware that anyone who follows politics in Dominica is well aware that the issue of electoral reform has been the center piece of the message of the United Worker Party (UWP). No political organization in Dominica has been calling for effective and timely reform of our electoral system thereby ensuring free and fair elections than the UWP. The most basic of internet search would reveal that the United Workers Party has been the leading force from the front and behind demanding electoral reform in Dominica together with civic-minded groups like the Concerned Citizen Movement (CCM) and the Joint-Multi-sectoral Business-Social-Civic-Religious Group, which appears to have morphed into the National Joint Action Movement (NJAM).
Motivated by such duplicitous conduct and insincere declarations of the retired Inspector of Police, I thought it would be appropriate to use PART XVIII of this series of articles examining the suspicious appointment of Sir Byron to remind Mr. Mills the general public, the Electoral Commission and the government-appointed consultant himself-the Sole Commissioner, of the plethora of practical and implementable proposals of the opposition UWP on the subject to the Electoral Commission, Electoral observers, consultations, and pundits.
Constitutionality/Legality of Sir Byron’s appointment
Before highlighting some of the submissions/proposals of the UWP on electoral reform, it maybe prudent to address the perceived unconstitutionality and illegality of the appointment of Sir Byron by the DLP government. Inasmuch as it may appear ethically improper for the executive arm of government to invite Sir Dennis Byron to conduct a half a million dollar consultancy on electoral reform, Mr. Linton has been mindful that Sections 41-42 of our Constitution mandate the government “to make laws for the peace, order, and the good government of Dominica,” subject to the provisions of the very Constitution. Therefore, as he correctly admonished callers to the program, the government is not violating the Constitution nor any law of the State by appointing Sir Byron to review recommendations and rendering advice. This is within the prerogative of the government. SC Astaphan is correct in highlighting the difficulty in estopping the executive arm of government from soliciting expert advice from an eminent jurist on proposed amendments to our electoral laws. As the Leader of Opposition has also correctly observed, the process of soliciting and rendering advice or making recommendations are not in and of themselves violations of any constitutional provision. The $½ million no-bid consultancy of Sir Byron does not challenge the constitutional requirement to preserve the independence and integrity of the Electoral Commission. Dominicans should appreciate that the solicitation and granting of professional advice to the government are not equivalent to ‘DIRECTING AND CONTROLLING’ the work of Commission, albeit these actions may well influence the decisions of the Commission similar to how the opinions and views from various other sources will. What is important is the assurance that the legislative process with respect to the enactment of electoral laws is strictly adhered to as constitutionally prescribed i.e., through the Commission.
Submissions/Proposals of the UWP on Electoral reform in Dominica
Over the last few years, the United Workers’ Party (UWP) has been extremely vocal and has submitted several written practical suggestions and proposals for implementation as electoral reform. Many of these submissions have been made directly to the Electoral Commission for consideration and all have been thoroughly discussed during the last general election campaign. At the press conference held at the Prevost Cinemall on Friday 26 May 2017, the United Workers’ Party (UWP) advised that it submitted detailed written proposals to the Electoral Commission on 18 August 2016 outlining the areas that the party felt ought to constitute proper reform of the electoral system in Dominica. Accordingly, the Parliamentary Opposition, in the usual display of disrespect shown towards it by the Commission, did not receive a response. Mr. Linton noted, For the avoidance of doubt, the attempt to rush major and highly controversial changes to our electoral laws through Parliament was disrespectful and contemptuous of the people of Dominica, many of whom exercise their constitutional right to dissent and protest peacefully,”
The following were among the areas proposed by the UWP in its written submission.
- An Accurate Register of Voters
The UWP has called for a total re-registration of all eligible voters on the basis of which a new voter’s register should be issued.
According to Mr. Linton, the UWP believes, “Cleaning the list of electors is a critical component of electoral reform, a bloated list that included despite prohibitions in law to the country the names of dead people and people living outside of Dominica for over five years is and will continue to be used to corrupt the voting process….a total re-registration is the best way to clean the list, this has successfully been done in neighbouring island states in relatively short periods or six months or less…All registrations, must be done by the Commission exclusively in Dominica and must be subject to the current residency criteria for voter registration.
The party believes that an uncleansed/unreformed list of electors will continue to present avenues for abuse of the solemn act of voting. Notwithstanding the inaction of the Commission, current electoral laws direct the Chief Elections Officer to rid the list of electors of the name of all unqualified electors. Voters whose names are cleansed from the current list of electors, because of residency status, having been afforded due process in law, are not necessarily being disenfranchised as they may be eligible for registration for voting having satisfied all residency requirements.
The UWP has identified the cleansing of the voter registry as critical in any reform process. Despite an estimated population of appropriately 60-72,000 persons, the voter registry in Dominica is approximately 94%-98% of the population, which cannot be right. While the disproportionate number can be attributed to the many Dominicans residing outside the country, the list also contains names of people who have been deceased or have moved away from the jurisdiction and have not returned for an extended period longer than 5 years.
- Voter Identification card
The UWP has repeatedly been noting that Dominica is one of the few remaining countries in the Caribbean without a voter ID card. In that regard, the party has been calling for Voter ID card as adequately provided for in existing law i.e., a proper picture voter ID card that is issued exclusively by the Commission in Dominica only to eligible voters in Dominica. The same card would also facilitate the identification of newly registered voters during elections. Although the party favours Voter ID card, it has, however, come to accept the Government proposed National ID Card with special features for voters as a compromise, urging the Commission to determine the enabling legislative amendments that will be necessary to facilitate mandatory voting with a picture ID card.
- The Rule of Law
The UWP has called for the enforcement of the provisions in our electoral laws against electoral offenses such as treating, bribery, personation, illegal voting and election offenses in general, noting that the last three general elections in Dominica have increasingly featured the corrupt and illegal practices particularly with respect to the importation of ineligible overseas voters, who are facilitated to cast ballots for the Dominica Labour Party. Observance of the rule of law takes into account the valuable consideration of huge sums of money spent on the acquisition of airline and ferry tickets for individuals and on bringing in foreign artists to provide entertainment to corruptly influenced voters to cast a ballot for the DLP.
- Voting by overseas-based Electors
Essentially, the UWP acknowledges that a large number of Dominican citizens resides in the diaspora and once they satisfy the legal requirements to vote, they should not be disenfranchised in any way. The party welcomes the participation of overseas-based Dominicans as part of our electoral process provided that such participation is facilitated strictly within the ambit of the existing laws of the country. All Dominicans living abroad, who are eligible to vote, should be free to return home to do so. The party remains mindful of our constitutional and legislative provisions that require that a voter should be in the country for at least one time during a five-year period and he/she must have his/her name on the voters’ list. The party supports legislation to regulate/support and facilitate registered eligible voters living overseas to vote in our general elections. However, the practice of a political party paying millions of dollars from undisclosed sources to transport thousands of voters, some of whom are ineligible voters, from various overseas locations is illegal, corrupt, and represents a most dangerous obstacle to free and fair elections.
According to Linton, “the UWP will not retreat from its position on this matter. He reasoned 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. He is of the view that 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, such disqualification does not necessarily mean that a voter loses the right or the entitlement to vote as he/she can easily be qualified through a 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 any voter re-confirmation process takes place exclusively in Dominica, preferably every election cycle.
- Equal media access for all political parties
The UWP has relentlessly been requesting fair access to the news and current affairs programs of all state-owned, state-operated, and state-controlled media. The longstanding unfair practice of denying the Opposition access to state media, which are funded by the public purse, must be stopped. Legislation must be enacted to support and enforce equal access to the programming of state media houses like DBS Radio, Marpin television, and the Government Information Service (GIS).
- Campaign Finance Reform
This has been a major concern of the UWP, recognizing that election campaigning in Dominica has become increasingly expensive and therefore funding of campaigns can and does play a critical role in the conduct and determining the outcome of an election. In that regard, the party has called for legislation to ensure, at the very least, the mandatory declarations of campaign contributions and election campaign spending by any political parties and candidates, and limiting financial contributions to a reasonable maximum per registered voter per election. The United Workers Party has made and continues to support all the recommendations of the OAS Observer Mission on the matter in its report. The UWP believes that there is no need to spend unaccounted millions of dollars on an election campaign in Dominica. hence, this matter must be included in any serious effort to address electoral reform in Dominica.