The New Today

Commentary

How proper is Governor-General on supervisor of elections?

The 29 May 2024 press release by the Government Information Service (GIS) of Grenada, “Governor-General appoints a New Supervisor of Elections”, may have come as a great surprise to many individuals, with pertinent queries and disquiets.

There are other individuals who would not be perplexed and bothered at all about this occurrence, based on the usual expectations for the changing of the key holders of certain Government’s institutions including that of the Supervisor of Elections (SoE), the Speaker and President of Parliament and even that of the Governor-General (G-G), on the entry of a new National Administration following general elections.

The point must be made though, that the latest development at the office of the SoE, institutionalised as the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO), regarding the replacing of Mr. Elvis Morain with Mr. Arthur Pierre effective 01 June 2024, would have resulted in a public uproar if the ‘title and tone’ of the press release had conveyed that the G-G dismisses the SoE, even though the change comes almost two years after the National Democratic Congress (NDC) led by ‘novice’ Dickon Mitchell with a Transformation Agenda, gained power over the New National Party (NNP) of ‘veteran’ Keith Mitchell at the 23 June 2022 polls.

It would be upheld that the G-G has the constitutional authority to appoint and then to dismiss or to replace the SoE, “acting in his or her own deliberate judgment” consistent with sections 35 and 62 of the National Constitution.

This prerogative of the G-G however, should not mean that his/her decision to dismiss or to replace the SoE, does not necessitate some measure of ‘justice and justifications’ to the Grenadian-people, especially now in this advanced period of experiences and circumstances.

As a matter of fact, the customary perception that being His Majesty’s representative in Grenada and the Head of the State/Government (Constitution, sections 19 and 57) and actually serving at the ‘choice and pleasure’ of the Prime Minister, the G-G is not answerable to the people, should not be tolerated.

It is imperative that this notion of ‘immunity and non-responsibility’ about the G-G be ‘debunked and aborted’; at least to the extent of not having his/her conduct violates the principles of good democratic governance and of due process in decision-making, and so not bringing the office of the G-G into disrepute.

Typical for consideration and enlightenment on the extent of the ‘prerogative and leverage’ of the G-G is the 11 October 2022 Justice Raulston L. A. Glasgow High Court judgment on the lawsuit of Judy Benoit v Her Excellency the Governor-General Dame Cecile La Grenade (Claim No. GDAHCV2022/0196), for Judicial Review of the G-G’s decision to dismiss her as SoE on 30 September 2013 after about four years in that office.

The Verdict ([2022] ECSC J1011-4) comes in favour of Benoit’s claim that she was unlawfully removed from the Office, and it was captioned in the media as “Embarrassing to the Office of the Governor General”.

What has informed the decision of the G-G (Her Excellency Dame Cecile La Grenade) to appoint at this point in time a new SoE, especially when there are ongoing scheduled public consultations by the SoE / PEO on the procurement and establishment of a new computerised voter registration system?

The past article “Broad-based Approach Needed On Grenada New Voter Registration System” highlights how pivotal is voter registration reform for Electoral Justice, and how the issues of electoral boundaries, citizenry enumerations and legislative amendments are intrinsic in the process of upgrading the System and which must thus be seriously embarked upon simultaneously.

To disturb this process of consultations and implementations, outside of a public emergency or except for compelling factors and/or other than to supplement the process, is tantamount to creating ‘loopholes and confusions’ for the upcoming elections, which appears to be the practice over elections cycles.

This traitorous practice has been exemplified in the article “Grenada’s Voting Process Setting For More Controversies And Contempt” which focuses on the issue of expired Voter Identification cards; and this issue was confirmed by the Electoral Observation Mission of the Organisation of American States to be “by far the most topical concern” about the 2022 electoral landscape.

Is the decision for a new SoE about a strategic political instruction by the NDC administration, which has been cloaked and rendered as ‘Certain questions not to be enquired into in any court, whereby the G-G is required to perform’, in accordance with section 108 of the Constitution?

Is the decision about a Rescue Mission for the PEO in securing Electoral Justice or in securing political advantage, when considering the statements and actions by NDC’s associates during opposition?

There have been the 10 May 2022 open letter to Elvis Morain by Dickon Mitchell, Political Leader of NDC, about “concerns with the management of the electoral process”, and the 11 July 2020 headline “Forrester: Elvis Morain should be removed as Supervisor of Elections”.

The New Today website reports, “ …. I and we of the NDC are respectfully calling on her Excellency the Governor General to promptly revoke the appointment of Mr. Elvis Morain as Supervisor of Elections ….we making this request on the grounds that he is ….untrustworthy and is prepared to lie, cheat and manipulate the facts in favour of his bosses so as to protect the status quo”.

Mr. Terrence Forrester has been a longstanding leading spokesperson for Keith’s NNP and the Government, but is now an executive member of the NDC and serving with ambassadorship for Dickon’s Government.

Does the recent decision about the SoE/PEO by the G-G reflect a ‘supreme, sweeping and satisfactory’ move for securing proper management of the electoral process?

Isn’t there a more ‘pressing and imperative’ approach in attending to the myriad of ‘complaints and concerns’, including the pointed recommendations by different official organisations on electoral missions, expressed over the past many years about the status and performance of the PEO?

Could it be testified that Morain who held the public office of SoE since 12 March 2019, has not left the PEO ‘better than he had met it’, and that his replacement is merely about routine requirement or administrative routine?

What are the deep-rooted challenges and the outstanding objectives that the new SoE, Pierre, is expected to face at the PEO and what are the specific terms of reference and the pertinent resources issued by the G-G in that respect?

Is it that’s all, once SoE takes and subscribes to the oaths of Allegiance and Office via G-G?

Beyond the ceremonial performance of appointing a SoE and of assenting legislative procedures such as pertaining to the writs for elections and the amendments to the elections laws; what ‘interest and involvement’ concerning the office of the SoE can Dame Cecile La Grenade as G-G since 07 May 2013 boast of?

How prominently featured is the Office in the Throne Speech by Her Excellency? Could the G-G address who is “the Minister for the time being responsible for matters” relating to the Office and about any report being presented to that Minister on the exercise of the functions of the SoE for laying before the House of Representatives?

What could be identified and recorded as a directive or an intervention or any proactive action by Her Excellency, which meaningfully contributes to the general upgrade of the PEO and particularly to ensure that the bedrock of democracy is not compromised?

It is regrettable how Dame Cecile La Grenade appears not to be extending ‘kind courtesy’ to the cries of the Grenadian people about the affairs of national governance, particularly with reference to matters of elections and democracy.

There is the pertinent case raised since October 2020 in the public domain, which has not ‘impressed and disturbed’ the G-G for action, even to the extent of offering clarifications and guidance.

It refers to the article, “Open Appeal To Grenada’s Governor-General on The Parliamentary Elections Office”, seeking for a comprehensive forensic investigation into the office of the Supervisor of Elections to bolster compliance with section 35 of the Constitution, to eliminate any chances for fraudulent actions from loopholes and limitations, to bring meaningful closure on the two stolen computerised voter registration systems, to foster integrity and public’s trust in the electoral process, and to ensure greater accountability and efficiency in the capacity of the Office.

The public is also awaiting a response or a pertinent treatment from Dame Cecile La Grenade to the urging by the Grenada Monarchist League through its May 2024 “Open Letter to Governor-General on convening Constituency Boundaries Commission”.

In its ‘appropriate and valid ‘petition, the League emphasises the seriousness, or rather the ugliness and embarrassment, of having unconstitutional absence and action of the Commission concerning the electoral boundaries, after a considerable interval.

It cites especially the current great ‘imbalance and unfairness’ in the number of electors in each constituency and the critical role of the G-G in that regard for fixing.

It should be instructive how the League also reminds Her Excellency about the value of the G-G’s office, as the constitutional authority and guardian of Grenada including its parliamentary democracy and the principles of Good Governance.

In ‘scrutinising and questioning’ the “deliberate judgment” of the G-G in the appointment of a new SoE, the ‘evolving weight’ of the Office should also be of critical factor and so too, a more pragmatic interpretation and approach is needed in filling the position, consistent with section 111 of the Constitution on what constitutes a “public office”.

That is, the office of the SoE being a public office does not mean ‘absolutely and strictly’ that the holder of that office ought to be a ‘prominent and packed’ public officer, and who is designated additional duties as the SoE.

The ‘capacity and delivery’ of the SoE must be geared towards attending ‘carefully and delicately’ to a ‘full-time’ job of tremendous constitutional responsibility.

Under the leadership and management of the SoE, the PEO has declared to provide a transparent, impartial and efficient electoral process that leads the way in promoting and maintaining democracy, and free and fair elections in accordance with the Constitution of Grenada and the Representation of the People Act (RPA) with pertinent amendments; and within designed statements of Philosophy, Mission and Vision for guidance with its commitment as outlined on the website.

For particular attention are the Key Priorities of the SoE/PEO as itemises in the Memorandum on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the Year 2024. Those strategic areas include continuous registration of eligible voters, public awareness engagements on the electoral process, Voter Registration System Replacement, consolidation of the electoral laws, public consultations on electoral reform, and amendments to the RPA.

With the budgetary year virtually half completed, it would be appropriate and of interest for the Grenadian people to know the stage or level of accomplishments of those corporate plans thus far.

Besides the unexplained postponement by new SoE Pierre of the series of consultations on the process of the Voter Registration System Replacement, the people had been informed by former SoE Morain about the Addendum to the List of Electors as at 31 March 2024, for inspection and for the submission of any claims and objections.

The public notice about the Addendum List though, is bare of updated statistics with comparisons on the spread of the registered voters.

The Governor-General needs to be ‘forthright and thorough’ about the office of the Supervisor of Elections, without imposing political sway on the Office and thus thwarting its constitutional independence; “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority”.

Moreover, after dishing-out ‘ridicules, criticisms and suspicions’ about the Office when being in opposition, a ruling political party should not seem to heighten the ills but seek real reforms!

J.K. Roberts