Local Government elections are to be postponed until March 2012, following the passage of two Bills in the Senate on Friday (February 18), which sought the deferment.
Entitled the Parish Councils General Election (Postponement) Act, 2011, and the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation General Election (Postponement) Act, 2011, the Bills seek to amend the Parish Council and Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation Acts, respectively, in order to extend the due date for the elections from no later than December 31, 2010 to no later than March 31, 2012.
Leader of Government Business and Minister of Justice, Senator Hon. Dorothy Lightbourne, who tabled the Bills, explained that Section 14 (1) of the Kingston and
St. Andrew Corporation Act, and Section 8 (1) of the Parish Councils Act, require that a general election of Councillors to serve on the Council of the KSAC and on the Parish Council respectively, are to be held every third year, not earlier than March and not later than June.
She noted that in Section Two of the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation General Election Postponement Act 2010, and the Parish Councils General Elections Postponement Act 2010, which came into effect on July 15, 2010, there was a provision that a general election of Councillors to serve on each Parish Council would be held in each parish not later than December 31, 2010 as the Governor-General in Council, may appoint.
“By virtue of Section Three of each Act, the Act shall continue into force until the 31st day of December 2010 and shall then expire unless extended by Resolution of each House of Parliament to a date not later than the 31st day of March 2011. In December 2010, such extension was sought,” Senator Lightbourne said.
She further explained that at that time when the Resolutions were taken, it was considered desirable to extend the duration of the Acts in order to facilitate the further implementation of the Local Government Reform Programme and the establishment of Portmore as the 15th Parish, “and so by virtue of these resolutions, the KSAC General Election Postponement Act 2010 and the Parish Councils General Election Postponement Act 2010 were extended in force until the 31st of March 2011."
“So, by virtue of that extension, the Local Government elections are now due by the 31st of March 2011. However, it is now being sought to defer the holding of these local Government elections until the 31st of March 2012, for the reasons that the Government requires further time to implement the elements of the Local Government Reform Programme and the establishment of Portmore as the 15th Parish,” Senator Lightbourne noted.
Outlining another reason for the further postponement, she said there is need to facilitate the efficient data collection under the 2011 Population and Housing Census, which could inadvertently, be affected by the process of electioneering.
Leader of Opposition Business, Senator A. J. Nicholson said that the one-year postponement “must come to mean something…the reasons that have been given, we can’t deny those are solid reasons.”
“We want assurances that the matters on which the postponement rests, that is, the reasons given, will be accomplished by next year. The public is entitled to know how these matters are to be accomplished,” Senator Nicholson said.
He suggested that the Minister in charge of the Bills gives updates throughout the 12 months to inform the public how the programme is progressing.
Government Senator, Tom Tavares-Finson, said that based on the likely complications of the legislation, and in order to reduce the cost of holding two separate elections, he suggested that Local Government and General elections be held simultaneously.
“I think that because of the difficulty that is going to be caused by the constitutional provision of Section 67 of the constitution, perhaps we need to begin to look at the possibility of holding the General and Local Government elections at the same time,” he said.
Senator Tavares-Finson, who is a member of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), pointed out that the ECJ has presented to Parliament, for approval, a number of proposals with respect to increasing the number of constituencies from 60 to 63.
He noted that in addition to those proposals, the ECJ has, over the last two years, embarked on a programme of re-organising a number of Parish Council divisions and indeed polling divisions.
“If a Local Government election is called before the General election, that Local Government election will be run on the old boundaries. Section 67 of the constitution is quite clear, although the new boundaries would have been accepted by Parliament and gazetted by the Governor-General, those old boundaries would remain in place until the holding of a general election,” Senator Tavares-Finson noted.
He argued that if six or seven months later, a general election is called, according to section 67 of the constitution, the calling of that election would trigger the implementation of the new boundaries.
The Senator said that these are issues that would need to be sorted out before a General Election is called.
Opposition Senator, Norman Grant and Government Senator, Desmond McKenzie also contributed to the debate.
The Bills were passed in the Lower House on February 15.
CONTACT: ALECIA SMITH