The New Today

Letters

How practical and valuable are elections observer missions in Grenada?

Can Grenada boast of significant advancement of its electoral mechanism, towards “free and fair” elections and thus engendering ‘pleasure and confidence’ in the process, due to the efforts of overseas officials on witnessing and evaluating the operations of local elections?

Over the years the nation has been having the benefit of elections observer missions from typically the Commonwealth, Organisation of American States (OAS}, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS); but has the Government been respecting the reasonable feedbacks offered?

Acknowledging Grenada as a sovereign nation, it may be improper for the pertinent organisations of the elections observer missions to hold the Government accountable for deficiencies identified in the electoral mechanism and for negligence in implementing the recommendations proposed; despite the established principles and objectives of those bodies as regards the ‘preservation and strengthening’ of democracy towards political stability and national prosperity.

The local people ought to be empowered and proactive in the forefront on sovereign democratic mainstays, and therefore the previously internet-circulated article “Coalition For Outstanding Assault On Grenada’s Electoral Mechanism Most Crucial” aims to activate consciousness and urgency on this patriotic stance. Yet, who is set to rally the people?

The 13 March 2018 general elections were marred by many complaints and controversies; and the results attracted profound commentaries from a wide spectrum of analysts, focusing on “the electoral environment in Grenada and the extent to which it exposes a need to engage in further reform”.

There were allegations of activities “which best practice would suggest did not render the 2018 elections clean”. Despite the denials and rebukes displayed before the elections by the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO), maybe extensive reflections and investigations afterward had confessions of irregularities made.

Moreover, the independent and impartial reports of both the CARICOM Election Observation Mission (CEOM) and the OAS Electoral Experts Mission confirm the areas of major concerns raised by the people.

Instructively, the CEOM discloses that it holds “the belief and the profound recognition that an election is not merely a singular event, but a process, the importance of which must be assessed in its entirety, to determine the extent to which the standards of credible elections have been achieved”.

Substantively the CEOM discovered, “… there are some procedures and areas that require strengthening not only to improve efficiencies but for advancement of electoral reform and for building greater public trust in the process. One such area relates to the use of the voter identification card and those procedures that are employed for voters who attend the polling stations without their voter identification card”.

The Report (CARICOM observer mission releases preliminary statement on Grenada elections – CARICOM) submits that in the interest of safeguarding the integrity of the voting process and as a preliminary recommendation to strengthen the process, “… attention be paid to this area of the law … to conclusively   identify   voters”.

Review the past circulated articles “Grenada’s Voter ID Card: How Legal And Applicable?” and “Grenada’s Parliamentary Elections Office On The Voter Identification Card”.

In making the point that “it is normally a good practice to after each electoral cycle conduct a review of the procedures against the background of the electoral framework with the aim of strengthening the electoral process” and in believing that pertinent reviews are ‘necessary and timely’, the CEOM also cites, “… the indoor agents are not given any documentation verifying the results of the vote tabulation process in the individual polling stations. … there is room for improvement in this regard to promote greater transparency. … this aspect of the law among other areas of the Representation of Peoples Act be revised to allow the agents to receive signed copies of the Preliminary Statement of the Poll …“.

Similar remarks by the OAS Mission advise, “in the spirit of further assisting Grenada in strengthening its electoral process”, that the appropriate authorities consider modifications to the operating standards and prevailing legislation governing the registration process of voters; adhere to the provisions currently specified in section 9 of the Representation of the People Act (RPA); prepare and circulate a standard format for the Declaration of Residency to be used by Justices of the Peace; proceed expeditiously to publish a current list of authorised Justices of the Peace, which must be updated and gazetted accordingly for the information of the general public; and establish regulations to guide Registration Officers with respect to the residence verification of Transfer Requests of voters between constituencies.

On the publishing of the Final Voters List amidst unresolved Claims, Objections and Appeals, the OAS Mission expressed, by making reference to hearings set to be held several days after the elections, that the approximately 21 days currently provided are insufficient for the satisfactory conclusion of all necessary steps; that the electoral authorities review the totality of processes that must be completed in order to prepare a final voters’ list for an election, including claims, objections and appeals, in order to calculate the minimum amount of time that is reasonably required to do so; and that the Government and electoral authorities consider amending the RPA with regulations to incorporate the findings into a new and realistic minimum timeline governing the publication of a final voters’ list for any election.

Striking in its comprehensive 64-page Final Report (via OASgrenada2018.pdf) is the repeat of the OAS Mission on Campaign Finance and the information on the availability of an OAS model legislation as a useful guide in addressing the issue.

Campaign Financing speaks about ‘access to, fairness in and usage of campaign resources’; this grievous issue was raised over twenty years ago as exemplified in OAS’ 1999 Observation.

The 2018 Mission stressed that “… unregulated financing from unidentifiable sources has the potential to impact the equity of the democratic process, and in order to promote transparency and accountability in electoral processes … the Government of Grenada, along with other appropriate stakeholders, engage in a collaborative process leading to legislation and regulations that establish clear limits on campaign financing and spending, require political parties to disclose their sources of funding and prohibit anonymous and foreign donations”; and with a role for the PEO to support and monitor.

Is the disregard of the assessments, findings and recommendations of the various elections observer missions as a result of the variance with the positions of the powers-that-be, or the incapacity of the people to advocate for electoral changes, and/or the lack of legislative persuasions?

Or rather, is it largely because the PEO is unmoved about the efforts of those overseas officials, but having its philosophical commitment to “the advancement of democracy for all citizens” defined and executed by the terms and pleasure of the Supervisor of Elections (SoE)?

Pomposity and ignorance of the SoE can give a false sense of independence in the exercise of his/her functions under section 35 of the Constitution.

There seems to be no law providing for the presence of elections observer missions in Grenada and for the Government to take appropriate actions on their reports.

The Government’s invitations to the organisations are merely based on political expediency for reputation amongst the democratic nations and for appeasement of the local people.

Thus, comprehensive and meaningful reforms of the electoral mechanism should also enter provisions in the RPA for entertaining overseas elections officials and for granting such persons the privilege to interact with the local stakeholders and officials of the elections.

Why shouldn’t it be judged contravention of the RPA to have any person, including a member of an Observation Mission, reside in a polling space during elections?

For debate are Section 58 on “Who are to be admitted within the polling station, including agents”, Section 69 on “Who may be present”, and Section 86 on “Maintenance of order at polling stations”.

Are overseas officials exempted from RPA’s provisions; and/or do executive policies supersede parliamentary legislations? For example; is the “legal framework” for the presence and work of the OAS Mission based on the pertinent articles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Organisation of American States Charter, resulting in the planning and signing of ‘binding agreements’ with the Government, the PEO and other parties, but which are not privy by the general public?

Do those Articles and Agreements also specify the criteria on “free” and on “fair”, to the extent that general elections are declared free and fair, despite evidence by the overseas officials of the recurrence of loopholes and abuses in the process, and of much discontent of the locals?

The focus and momentum for transparency, accountability, credibility and efficiency in the electoral mechanism lie with the PEO. Unfortunately; the PEO/SoE tend to be in disrepute when considering that the constitutional expectation has not been fully realised, reports on electoral reforms have not been acted upon, and questionable pronouncements and actions are undertaken.

Moreover, the general public is not truly served, when there are limitations and difficulties in using the official website. Necessary documents for perusal, such as the reports over the years of the elections observer missions and on the general procedures and statistical results of elections, are lacking. Why is it that a complete voters list cannot be accessed for adequate assessment?

Moreover, there is need to have a database on the demographics of the eligible voters such as including gender, age range, occupational status, Citizenship By Investment, and rate of voter registration and of replacement of voter identification cards.

The disgusting situation which emerged in the Commonwealth of Dominica surrounding its 6 December 2019 general elections is typical as regards the seeming mockery of democracy, particularly with the attitude and treatment for reforms towards rewarding elections.

Are the pertinent organisations satisfied that Value For Money is obtained for the numerous deployments of elections observer missions in countries such as Dominica and Grenada?

The robust lobbying and protests for implementing the worthy recommendations have realised offensively the deployment of Caribbean military forces in anticipation of disruptions of Dominican’s elections, and adding insult to injury with the establishment of a ‘supposedly paid’ one-man commission to study the need and/or to give advice for the reforms.

What is the nature, significance and impact of the amendments adopted thus far on the RPA, and who are the players and stakeholders involved in the process?

Meaningful, genuine and comprehensive amendments cannot be achieved when the conversations are limited to political parties? In fact, it is self-defeating for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) or any other political entity, independently or collectively, to feel ‘privileged and relaxed’ by having ‘special closed talks’ with PEO/SoE on electoral reforms, without the broad representation of civil society.

It was recorded that in September 2017 a Bill from the Order Paper was withdrawn because NDC refused to sign the minutes of a meeting to amend the RPA, whilst other political parties who attended signed confirming agreement to the proposals.

What and who decide the ‘weighty and worthy’ issues for advancing Grenada’s electoral mechanism and saving its democracy?

In October 2013, the OAS pledged financial and technical support towards the total overhauling of the current administrative structure of the PEO; this has been related to the flawed 2016 Constitutional Referendum Bills.

The real challenge now is not merely about free elections and the ill termination of PEO’s officials, but ardently addressing the unfair advantages and applications of the RPA.

J. K. Roberts