JIS News

The House of Representatives yesterday (June 7), gave its approval to recommendations contained in the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) Report to Parliament on the establishment of an Electoral Commission, and an addendum to the report.
Noting that the reports proposed the terms that would govern the establishment of an Electoral Commission, Minister of National Security and Leader of Government Business in the House, Dr. Peter Phillips said that, “we should all recognize that it had originally been intended, from as far back as 1979, that the Electoral Advisory Committee would eventually be entrenched in the Constitution and that it would conclude the managerial arrangements for elections and the handling of elections in Jamaica”.
“These reports now take us closer to that goal. The fact is that the reports will in fact take us to the point of conclusion along a path that was set out at the very inception when the Representation of the People Interim Reform Act (1978) was passed,” he added.
Dr. Phillips, who has portfolio responsibility for electoral matters, said the work of the EAC, which was established under that Act, had been one of the success stories of the country.
“If we bear in mind the kind of controversy that used to surround electoral administration in the past and the general acceptance that exists in the society about matters of electoral administration, we can all recognize that this represents a critical area of success and indeed we all owe a debt of gratitude to successive members of the Electoral Advisory Committee,” he said.
Ultimately, Dr. Phillips said the Electoral Commission would have to be entrenched in the Constitution as part of the general set of Constitutional reforms, which were pending.
However, before that process, it is intended that the Commission be established by statute and given the autonomy to guide its administration, representing a maturity of the electoral arrangements that have been evolving from the end of the 1970s, he noted.
As proposed, the Commission will be a permanent, independent and autonomous authority, ultimately entrenched in the Constitution and will report directly to Parliament. “This will remove any possible interference from any quarter, in the decisions of the Electoral Advisory Committee,” he pointed out.
The Commission will be required to maintain a register of eligible electors and the production of a voters’ list on which elections can be held; and consider and make a determination regarding any state funding for any element of the electoral process.
The body will also administer electoral funding and have responsibility for any financial disclosures pertinent to that provision of funds; and be responsible for public education to encourage the citizenry to exercise their franchise.
“To safeguard the independence of the Commission, its budget, once approved by the Parliament, will be provided directly by the Ministry of Finance and the Commission will be subject to the established accountability requirements under the Financial Administration and Audit Act,” Dr. Phillips pointed out.
The Commission will report to Parliament at least once per year on matters concerning the responsibilities and activities of the Commission.
The Commission will consist of nine members, all appointed by the Governor General. Two Commissioners are to be nominated by the Prime Minister and two nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The remaining four Commissioners are to be appointed by the Governor General after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Selected members will elect one member to be Chairman of the Commission, while the Director of Elections is to be appointed on the recommendation of the eight Commissioners, and will be a voting member of the Commission.
Dr. Phillips noted that in the past, the appointment of selected members expired at the same time, resulting in an inability to have a quorum in place for several months.
In order to avoid any possible recurrence of such a situation, it is proposed that: the Governor General commences the process of consultation with the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader three months prior to the expiry date of the appointment of Commissioners; the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader submit their nominations to the Governor General no later than six weeks after the commencement of the consultation process; and the agreement with respect to the selected members to be appointed be concluded before the date of expiry of the appointment of the Commissioners.
It has also been recommended that if for any reason the Commissioners cannot be appointed at the expiry date, the existing Commissioners continue for a period no longer than 90 days, at the end of which time, a panel of Commissioners will be appointed by the Governor General. The appointment of the four selected members of the Commission will be for seven years.
“It represents the culmination of an extensive period of electoral reform, involving extensive legal reforms.there has been the provision of new systems for the registration of voters. We are at the point where it is now possible to transfer all the other responsibilities formally to a Commission, including the delimitation of boundaries,” Dr. Phillips told the House.
“This matter of the delimitation of boundaries is a very current one.there is presently taking place, a re-verification of electors and following that, it has been agreed that there should be a determination of constituency boundaries, which will apply in future elections,” he added.
He noted that this came against the background of the recommendation of the EAC, that the number of constituencies into which the country is divided should be an odd number, and that the constitutional provision should be raised to 65 seats, moving to 63 seats in the first instance.
“It is our expectation that this law will come into place, so that when that is to be done, the delimitation of boundaries will be undertaken by an Electoral Commission, which will be in place,” he said.
Voicing support, Opposition Leader Bruce Golding said both political parties could take pride in the efforts that had been made at electoral reform and the achievements, having collaborated to create an electoral system that could be held up as a model for other countries.

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