The Grouping of Civil Society Organisations was invited by Supervisor of Elections to attend a meeting – along with representatives of political parties and independent candidates – re “important matters pertaining to the electoral process.”
Representing the Grouping of Civil Society Organisations were JK Roberts and Davidson Nedd and Sandra Ferguson. The meeting took place on the afternoon of Thursday, 9 January at the office of the Parliamentary Elections Office, Tanteen, St George’s and was chaired by Elvis Morain, Supervisor of Elections. Also in attendance from the Parliamentary Elections Office were the Assistant Supervisor of Elections, the Systems Administrator and the Public Relations/Public Education Officer.
The Supervisor of Elections advised the meeting that the current Voters ID expires on 31 January 2020 and that his office was getting calls from some persons/institutions which used/accepted the card as a means of national identification. His office had consulted with the Attorney-General’s Office on how to address the re-issuance of the Voter ID cards since the Representation of the People Act was silent on the issue of expiration date. The office of the Attorney-General advised that in order to re-issue the card, amendments would have to be made to the Representation of the People Act. The Parliamentary Elections Office proposed the following:
- Application for Re-issuance of Card: Application for re-issuance of cards could commence six months prior to the expiration date of the card.
- Life of Card: The re-issued card would have a life of ten years, from 1 February 2020 to 31 January 2030.
- Expiration Date: All cards issued in between that period would expire on 31 January 2030.
Persons in attendance observed that there were several loopholes and ambiguities in the Representation of the People Act. Therefore, addressing the issue of the expiration date was an opportunity for the Parliamentary Elections Office to put all the issues on the table, have an open debate and take a holistic view with respect to registration and other issues pertaining to the electoral process. If amendments were to be made to the Representation of the People Act, then the recommendations of both the OAS and Caricom Election Observer Missions should also be included.
Persons in attendance further observed:
- Delay in Addressing the Expiration Date: It was incomprehensible that the Parliamentary Elections Office had waited almost until the expiration date to address the issue of the re-issuance of the card. At least one political party had brought the matter to the attention of the Parliamentary Elections Office some six months ago.
- Integrity of Electoral Process: The integrity of the electoral process would be at risk if the amendments only addressed the issue of the expiration date. The piecemeal approach of addressing only the expiration date smacked of political expediency.
- Purpose of the Voters ID: The purpose of the Voters ID card was to facilitate voting and it was therefore an integral part of the electoral process. By definition, the Voters’ Registration Card is a card to vote and should be presented at the time of voting. However, when the card was introduced, the law was not amended to make it mandatory to produce the card at voting. Notwithstanding that there are specific conditions and procedures to be followed if an individual could not present a voters card, the use of the card when voting should be addressed in the amendments to be undertaken.
- 2018 Elections: For the 2018 elections, the Office of the Parliamentary Elections Office had advised that persons could vote without presenting a Voters ID and the 2018 OAS Election Report had queried why persons were allowed to vote without presenting a Voters ID Card. In respect of the 2018 Elections, the written judgment of a court case pertaining to the registration process was being awaited and this judgment should also inform any amendments that were being proposed.
- Consultation after Decisions Taken: Skepticism was also expressed about the fact that the Parliamentary Elections Office was meeting with stakeholders after it had already made proposals to address the expiration date.
Persons in attendance requested the following:-
- Circulation of Draft Legislation for Review Prior to Tabling: The Supervisor was requested to circulate the proposed draft legislation to facilitate review and recommendations by persons in attendance PRIOR to the legislation being tabled in Parliament.
- Timeline in Respect of Implementation of Reforms and Recommendations: The Supervisor was also requested to commit to some timelines in respect of implementation of the reforms and recommendations of the successive Election Observer Missions.
- Costs and Source of Funds: Information was also requested in respect of the costs of the re-issuance of cards and the source of funds.
The Supervisor of Elections advised as follows:
- Follow-up Meeting/Review of Draft Legislation: The draft legislation would be circulated and a follow-up meeting held with persons present to obtain their feedback. Someone from the Attorney-General’s Office would also be present to respond to queries and offer clarifications.
- Implementation of Recommendations by Election Observer Missions: The Supervisor advised that his office has to report to the OAS on the progress re implementation of recommendations. However, he did not commit to any timelines.
- Costs and Budgetary Allocation: The costs of producing a Voters ID is EC$50. There was a budgetary allocation in the 2020 Estimates to support re-issuance of cards and the source of this allocation was government revenues.
- Press Conference: The Supervisor advised that his Office would be hosting a press conference the next day Friday, 10 January, to advise on how the Parliamentary Elections Office would be addressing the issue of expiration of the cards.
The representatives of the Grouping thanked the Supervisor for the opportunity to participate in the meeting and looked forward to the opportunity to participate in the promised follow-up meeting to review the legislation and offer comments PRIOR to it being tabled in Parliament.
- Following the meeting, the CSO representatives reviewed the allocations for the Parliamentary Elections Office, Vote 08, in the 2020 Budget Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure and noted the following:-
- Key priorities of Budget 2020: The following are the key priorities – continuous registration of eligible voters; public education and outreach programme on the electoral process; re-issuance of identification cards
- Project No. 0010507 – Continuous Registration Programme: Apparently, this is the item, under Capital Expenditure that will accommodate replacement of the expired cards. The allocation is $695,000 funded by Local Revenue.
- Re-issuance Costs: Based on information provided, the costs of a Voters ID card is EC$50. Replacing almost 80,000 cards would amount to approximately EC$4,000,000. This therefore suggests that the activity is grossly under-budgeted. How therefore is this activity to be funded?
- Support to the Parliamentary Elections Office via Local Company, AZITS: Via the press conference, it was also learnt that since 2015 a local company has been providing support for the registration system set up the Canadian company 3M. This Canadian company was no longer in operation. This is a matter on which further information and clarifications are required – among other things the process by which the company was awarded the contract, the identity of the manager/operator of the company, the services provided by this company.
Grouping of Civil Society Organisations
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