A Proactive Relationship with the Press

Past relations with the press

The tendency in the past was for the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) to have a reactive relationship with the press and media. Put another way, the EAC responded to concerns raised by political parties or the public. The new EAC, appointed in December 2000, continued along this path for most of 2001. This is largely explained by the fact that there was no EAC in place for more than six months in 2000 resulting in the urgent necessity to address the controversial issues related to the delay in the appointment of Selected Members.

In addition, a by-election had to be held in the constituency of North Eastern St Ann due to the resignation of the Member of Parliament. This by-election was held on March 8, 2001. It provided the newly appointed Selected Members the opportunity to learn the about the conduct of election first hand as insiders. One outcome of this early experience of the conduct of elections was that the EAC decided and agreed on ten standards for free and fair elections and carried out a test of these standards on each of the then existing 60 constituencies based on data, petitions filed by candidates, press reports and anecdotes from the General Elections of 1993 and 1997. The main finding of the test of standards was that 45 constituencies, all rural, complied with at least 95 percent of the standards while 15 constituencies, all urban, did not meet this required threshold of compliance.

Another urgent issue facing the new EAC was that the previous EAC had implemented Continuous Voter Registration starting with the Voter Enumeration for the General Elections of 1997. In that Enumeration all applicants fingerprinted. The objective was that in producing the Voters’ List for that General Election all fingerprints of all election would be cross-matched to ensure that there was no duplication of electors on the Voters’ List. The cross-matching process stalled because of technical difficulties. Continuous Voter Registration started in centres in 1999 the technical problems remained and were only resolved in late 2000.

This first cross-matching process showed that over 97 percent of persons had only registered once and were not duplicated on the list. The remainder fell into two basic categories. Persons with the same biodata and biometrics who appeared more than once on the list and persons with different biodata but different biometrics that appeared multiple times on the list. The Electoral Office was instructed to contact these registrants and set up times and places in each Constituency where these registrants could meet Returning Officers to clarify there registration and or identity. The EAC also published the names of all persons of these two categories in the two daily newspapers along with the invitation to meet with the Returning Officer in the constituency in which they registered.

During most of 2001, the EAC continued the pattern of being reactive in its relationship with the press and media. Indeed, the press coverage it received in the first half of 2001 was decidedly negative. One prominent article in January 2001 was that the EAC was to be abolished. When in Feb 2001 the EAC required the companies that had been short-listed for the development of the Electronic Voter Identification and Balloting Issuing System (EVIBIS) to give a public demonstration of their proposed system with the voters being Members of Parliament, House and Senate, and selected representatives of political parties, the report in a prominent newspaper the following day was “EAC in Chaos”.

With General Elections due in 2002, toward the end of 2001, the EAC decided to make a radical change in its relationship with press and media. The main elements in the new relations with the media and press were as follows:

  1. The EAC would be proactive in its relationship with the press as well as open and transparent, the only exception being about details of the security of the electoral processes.
  2. Annually, the EAC would hold a Press Conference at the beginning of each Calendar year and another in September following the summer break. At these Press Conference, the EAC would update the Press and the public on its actions and accomplishments.
  3. Should any public issue arise that requires an urgent response from the EAC, a Press Conference would be held to address that issue?
  4. Press Conference would be attended by both Nominated and Selected Members, and presided over by the Chairman
  5. At Press Conferences, journalists will be permitted to ask any questions they wished of any member of the EAC. Press Conferences will end when they are no more questions.
  6. Members of the EAC would make themselves available to the press and media as far as it was humanly possible.

The new approach was implemented in September 2001 and coincided with preparations for General Elections that could be called at any time.

The EAC decided to adhere strictly to the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) which specified that two Voters’ List must be published each calendar year. The EAC set May 31 and November 30 as the dates for the publication of Voters Lists and March 31st and September 30th and the cut-off dates for electors to be included in these lists respectively. The EAC further decided that there would be no Supplementary Voters List published for any elections called between these two dates. All elections would be contested on the Voters Lists of March 31st or November 30th respectively.