CHAIRMAN’S OPENING REMARKS
Reverend Canon, the Honourable Weevill Gordon, Custos of Kingston and Mrs Gordon, Honourable Derrick Smith, Minister of National Security and Justice, Dr, the Honourable Carlton Davis and Mrs Davis, Dr Peter Phillips Opposition Spokesman on National Security and Justice, Commissioners of the Electoral Commission and your spouses, Mr Danville Walker Director of Elections and Mrs Walker, Awardees of the Commission, Mr William Chinsee former Chairman of the EAC, Mr Noel Lee former Director of Elections and other specially invited guests, guests all and Members of the Media we are met this afternoon to recognise and honour members of staff of the Commission who have served for varying lengths of time from 10 to over 30 years.
Ceremonies and rituals are important to institutions and organisations because they are ways in which institutions and organisation remind existing members of the purpose and meaning of that institution and call them to recommitment and renewal. Long service award functions are ceremonies and rituals. Such functions would fall short if they only serve to honour their current members without making a connection to the purpose and meaning of the service that is being celebrated. For it is the purpose and meaning of the institution that gives the service of the individuals being honour social significance and generational importance.
In the book of Exodus in the establishment of the ceremony and ritual of the Passover, the Good Book says “and it shall come to pass when your children shall say, what mean ye by this service? Ye shall say”. In modern terms, we could say “when succeeding generations shall ask, what is the meaning of this? You shall say. In commencing this long service award function of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica it is appropriate to begin by recalling and reminding ourselves of the purpose and meaning of this institution, thus providing the context and the significance of the service that is being recognised.
Elections were first held in Jamaica in December 1663. But the holding of elections did not coincide with the birth of democracy in the country. For the next 280 years, elections were conducted devoid of democracy. During this period elections were soiled and spoiled with corrupt practices that brought its practice into constant suspicion.
Democracy was born in Jamaica with a constitutional change in 1943 which brought about adult suffrage and representative government. With this change came the establishment of the Electoral Office of Jamaica with the mandate and the mission to conduct elections within the framework of democracy. The forward leap into democratic government was accompanied by the back reached into corrupt colonial electoral practices. This carried over into independence.
In the late 1970s, the political leaders and the society at large became convinced that the ideals of democracy in independent Jamaica would not be served by legacy bequeath by corrupt colonial electoral practices. Political will emerged to cleanse the electoral system of its colonial past and to transform it to be consistent with the tenets of democracy and the rule of law in a sovereign nation, where power comes from the people. In 1979 the Electoral Advisory Committee, EAC, was established with a mandate to begin the process of transformation and to lay the foundation for the establishment of an Electoral Commission. The electoral machinery was removed from the control of the party in government and made a creature of the Parliament. The Electoral Office was transferred to the EAC.
Through the hard work on Nominated Members, Selected Members, Directors of Elections, the staff of the EOJ, the leadership of the political parties and the people of Jamaica as a whole, the EAC accomplished its mission. The Electoral Commission came into being on December 1, 2006. The electoral process and machinery have been substantially cleansed of the corrupt legacy of the colonial past. Jamaica is now recognised internationally as one of the countries conducting elections to the highest standards and in keeping with the tenets of democracy and the rule of law.
2008 marks 65 years since the establishment of the Electoral Office of Jamaica, 29 years since the creation of the EAC and just over one year of the establishment of the Commission. When we honour those have served for 10 to 14 years, 15 to 19 years, 20 to 24 years, 25 to 29 years and 30 years and more let us understand individual service that has been rendered within the context of the purpose of transformation of the electoral process to ensure that elections serve Jamaican democracy and independence for the benefit of all the people of Jamaica.