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Prime Minister, Bruce Golding, has acknowledged that the electoral systems in the Caribbean and Jamaica, have come a long way and have made significant strides whereby Jamaica in particular, can boast of the integrity of the system, the conduct of elections and the extent of public confidence it commands.
At the same time, the Prime Minister has cautioned that “We make an error if we ever become complacent. We can’t take our eyes off it. The electoral process will always be at risk and we always have to be on the alert”.
Mr. Golding further declared that Governments must always recognise that the system will always be in need of modernisation as technology changes and as new tools become available that will make it stronger and immune to manipulation.
Mr. Golding was speaking yesterday morning (Nov 7), at the opening of the third general meeting of the Association of Caribbean Electoral Organizations (ACEO), at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston. The two day meeting is being presented by the Organisation of American States, (OAS), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ). Participants are drawn from Jamaica and several other countries in the region including Belize, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Mr. Golding noted that Jamaica’s focus so far has been on registration of voters and the actual conduct of elections, to ensure that voters can exercise their franchise in a proper manner.
However, he said there were a number of areas of concern that needed attention. Those concerns include the issue of political financing, as he noted that money and other forms of resources can impact positively or undermine the system. Other concerns are the spending by political parties, the sources from which they accept donations, the types of activities on which expenditure can legitimately be undertaken, the extent to which political parties can access state funding, and the pressure that this can put on the state to provide the political funding.
Other areas of concern raised by the Prime Minister, covered the role of the media and the impact it can have on, or the extent to which it assists or serves to undermine and even corrupt the process. Accountability and the question of ownership of the electoral process, and how to get people involved, were other concerns raised. He said the Electoral Commission and entities like these are the custodians of the system but it is the people who are the real owners and there is the need to engage them and get them involved.
Mr. Golding said Government is also looking at a number of recommendations being developed by the Electoral Commission which will involve a regulatory framework in which political parties have to become legal entities. He said the question of disclosure and reporting requirements which have to go with regulatory framework are being considered. These have not been signed off on as yet and Parliament is awaiting the recommendations.
“In making those decisions, we have to be careful that we don’t over prescribe. These are delicately connected issues which have to be separated. These issues should be on the screen and discussed during your deliberation over the next two days. They are important issues if we are to move our electoral practices forward to meet the new challenges”, Mr. Golding concluded.
Yesterday’s opening session also heard from the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, Professor Errol Miller, President and CEO of the IFES, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, and Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Ambassador Albert Ramdin. The meeting concludes today (Nov 8).