ECJ Seeks Constitutional Entrenchment


The House of Representatives has adopted a report from the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) seeking an amendment to the Electoral Commission (Interim) Act, to make provision for the ECJ’s entrenchment in the Constitution.
Moving the resolution, Minister of Education and Leader of Government Business, Hon. Andrew Holness, pointed out that the recommendation for the entrenchment was an important change to the electoral process.
“This recommendation has been 28 years in the making, as the Representation of the People Act of 1979 contemplated not only the establishment of an Electoral Commission, which we eventually established on first of December 2006 by virtue of the Electoral Commission Act but, more importantly, the entrenchment of this Commission in the Constitution to accord it the same type of protection as that given to other Commissions, such as the Public Service Commission,” he explained.
Mr. Holness said this protection means that any amendment to the role, function and general operation of the Commission would require at least a two-third majority vote in both Houses of Parliament, in accordance with the Constitution.
He noted that as a precursor to entrenchment, the Commission recommended that certain aspects of the current legislation be amended. In particular, the ECJ recommended the widening of its advisory functions to allow it to give general advice directly to the Cabinet and statutory bodies, on matters relating to the electoral process.
“Essentially, this will remove the electoral process from under the political direction of a minister: with this new recommended amendment the Electoral Commission could advise directly the Cabinet of the country without need to go through a minister with responsibility for electoral affairs, ” he asserted.
The Commission also recommended reducing its membership from nine to eight, by making the post of Director of Elections separate from that of a Commissioner.
“Now, effectively the Director of Elections is a commissioner… this (amendment) would change that, so you would only have commissioners and a separate post as Director,” Mr. Holness elaborated.
The report also advocated benchmarking the post of Chairman to that of a senior puisne judge.
“What would now happen is that the salary and emoluments of the post of the Chairman would be tied to that of a senior puisne judge, and would move accordingly, instead of having to be separately negotiated as it is now,” the Leader of Government Business told the House.
Another recommendation was that authority be given to the Commission to approve staff remunerations, provided that they are in keeping with approved rates for comparable posts within the public service, and provided any increase above the prescribed rates are approved by the committee of parliament that oversees the Commission.
A fifth recommendation was to give the Commission the authority to set rates for certain categories of personnel required for the registration of electors, and for the conduct of elections.
Mr. Holness said that the latter two recommendations would add to the efficiency of the Commission, in terms of remuneration for its staff, as well temporary staff such as scrutineers and Election Day workers.

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