By a patriotic contributor

Three months following the December 6, 2020 general elections, Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, announced that he had invited eminent Caribbean Jurist, Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron, to perform the services of Sole Commissioner for electoral reform process in Dominica.

The Electoral Commission is a creature of the Constitution of Dominica. It is established by Part 4, Section 56 of the Constitution.  Accordingly, there shall be an Electoral Commission for Dominica, which shall consist of a chairman appointed by the President, acting in his own deliberate judgement; two members appointed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister; and two members appointed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, provided that the President shall act in his own deliberate judgement and without the advice of the Prime Minister or, as the case may be, the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, if, having requested that advice, he does not receive such advice within thirty (30) days of so requesting.

The responsibilities of the Electoral Commission include, inter alia, the registration of voters, the maintenance and management of the voters list and conducting of national elections, in each constituency, and local elections in each authority.

Importantly, in the exercise of its functions under this Constitution, the Electoral Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority including and perhaps particularly the executive branch of government in the office of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

The term of each member of the last Commission terminated when the House of Assembly first met after the dissolution of Parliament in November 2019. This would be on February 10, 2020. With the President having failed to solicit the advice of the Leader of Opposition 6 months following the elections, the Leader of Opposition forced his hands by submitting the names of its both nominees for appointment as new Commissioners, who were subsequently sworn-in by the President a week later followed by the swearing-in of two government nominees while the appointment of a chainman in the deliberate judgment of the President remains pending.

In the same week of the appointment of the Commissioners by the President, the Prime Minister reminded the nation on his Sunday evening ‘Anou Palay’ programme of his December 2019 revelation made during his swearing-in ceremony that his cabinet had approved the engagement of Sir Byron to serve as “a sole commissioner to advance efforts towards electoral reform in Dominica.”

According the Prime Minister, the appointment of Sir Byron was a further commitment of the DLP administration to advance efforts towards electoral reform, notwithstanding the Covid period. He advised that Sir Dennis has indicated his commitment to commence the exercise in the month of September 2020, and should be in a position to submit the final report by the end of December 2020. Prime Minister Skerrit is confident that this appoint is in accordance with our laws and it is good news for Dominica as “electoral reform has always been very important to his government …and he hopes “that once Sir Dennis would have submitted his report then we can go to the Parliament to effect the necessary changes as he will recommend to the country to move forward.”  The Prime Minister did not say to whom Sir Byron would be submitting his final report for consideration before any such recommendations could be included in any amendment to our electoral laws for consideration of parliament. However, since the request for the services of Sir Byron did not come from the Commission and the appointment is at the behest of the Prime Minister, then it is obvious that Sir Byron will ultimately report to the Prime Minister.

According to the Prime Minister, his government (not the constitutionally mandated Electoral Commission has developed draft terms of reference for the Sole Commissioner and he (not the Electoral Commission) expects Sir Dennis Byron to make an initial visit to Dominica on an information gathering exercise and once he comes into Dominica, he will be exposed to all the relevant stakeholders including the media.”    

Without citing the legal authority of the government to be involved in such a matter and in the manner in which the PM has proposed, the Prime Minister stated that his government has already “developed draft terms of reference for the sole Commissioner.  According to the Prime Minister, it is in the interest of the government to go to Parliament the soonest in order to start the process well in advance of the constitutional date for the next elections, and therefore the country can put this issue of electoral reform behind us to allow for focus on other important agenda matters.

Amidst all this, and without questioning the competence of the eminent former jurists, civic—minded Dominicans have been asking question, while others has anxiously expressed a desire to be part of this process, however unconstitutional it may be. The official parliamentary opposition has, however, expressed serious concerns of law over the announcements by the Prime Minister.  Supporters of the UWP have also questioned the constitutionality of the Prime Minister’s appointment vis-à-vis the constitutional mandate and independence of the Electoral Commission is exercising its constitutional responsibilities and authority.  In that regard, the following legitimate questions have been posed-“will the Sole Commissioner replace, work separately from or will be working with the constitutionally mandated Electoral Commission?  Others have asked whether our Constitutional provisions have been suspended by the Prime Minister. Yet, others have opined that Section 56 of our Constitution dealing with the role of the Electoral Commission is very clear and it is obvious that what the Prime Minister is contemplating can only be in line with his brazen declaration of “no-law, no Constitution can prevent him from doing as he like” and it would be extremely shameful if Sir Byron, such an astute, eminent retired Chief Justice of the ECSC would allow himself to be part of the open violation of our Constitution.

On the other hand, a few supporters of ruling DLP have advanced the argument that the Sole Commissioner is not “an official appointee to the Electoral Commission nor is his appointment meant to serve as a Commissioner as defined by our Constitution.” According to this ill-conceived proposition, Sir Byron is appointed by the Prime Minister in the capacity as a legal consultant commissioned to advise the government on electoral reform.  However, this does not seem to be what the PM is selling and any attempt to label the patriots who question this appointment as unconstitutional as mere agitators who are deliberately and dishonestly seeking to confuse that matter in a sinister play to seek traction against the decision of the Skerrit-led cabinet is misguided.  If the Prime Minister is suggesting that the role of his Sole Commissioner is the same as that of the Electoral Commission, then Houston! We have some serious and fundamental constitutional problems to be resolved.

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