Letters to the Editors of Observer and Herald – Convention

The Editor

Observer and Herald, respectively

Kingston

Dear Sir

In the recent debate in Parliament concerning the penalty to be applied to voting openly several allegations were made against the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, ECJ, which have no foundation in fact. On behalf of the Commission, and for the record, allow me to state the facts:

 

  • The Electoral Advisory Committee, EAC, in its Report to Parliament of April 2006 recommending amendments to existing electoral legislations did not recommend that voting openly be made a criminal offence and therefore did not recommend any penalty.
  • Parliament accepted the EAC Report and Cabinet issued drafting instructions consistent with the Report.
  • The matter of making voting openly a criminal offence arose from the drafting of the three Bills to give legal effect to the recommendations in the EAC Report. This was understandable since all violations of the secrecy of ballot; matters of bribery; intimidation; and impersonation are treated as criminal offences and attract minimum mandatory sentences.
  • The Commission is not responsible for the drafting of legislation.
  • The Draft Bills were approved by the Legislative Committee clearing them to be placed before Parliament.
  • The Commission accepted in good faith the Draft the Bills and their approval to be tabled in Parliament.
  • The House of Representatives is debating the Bills, and in responding to objections from three members to minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines, invoked the Convention that Bills concerning electoral law are passed without amendment.
  • The Senate amended the Bills contrary to the Convention.
  • Since the Senate cannot overrule the House of Representatives, without the consent of the House, the amended Bills were returned to the House.
  • Following the action was taken by the Senate, the Commission wrote to the Leader of Government Business in the House stating that the Commission had no disagreement in principle with the arguments against minimum mandatory sentences but disagreed with the action taken by the Senate. Further, that the Commission urged the House to abide by its decision not to breach the Convention.
  • After an animated discussion the House on Tuesday, July 3, 2007, the House referred the matter back to the Commission, which action is consistent with the Convention.
  • The Commission submitted a Report to Parliament on July 9, 2007, recommending the removal of minimum mandatory sentencing for seventeen instances where such sentencing currently obtains: namely the secrecy of the ballot, bribery, intimidation, and impersonation. The Commission also recommended that the amendments passed by the Senate on voting openly be accepted by the House. The House accepted the Report of the Commission without amendment.
  • The Commission also wrote a letter to the Leader of Government Business expressing it’s thanks to the House of Representatives for upholding the Convention on both occasions when the Bills were debated.

 

The facts are that at no time did the Electoral Commission seek to introduce ‘bad law’ into the electoral legislation. At no time did the Commission attempt to dictate to the Parliament or take any action that indicated that it did not recognise, respect and accept Parliament as the supreme authority in legislative matters. The only intervention the Commission made to the Parliamentary proceedings was to indicate to the House of the elected representatives of the people, which is the final authority in legislative matters, that the Commission supported the decision taken by the House to preserve the Convention and to express disagreement with the action taken by the Senate. Any careful analysis of this matter will show that the core issue was the difference in the actions of the House and the Senate. At no time was the issue the Commission versus the Parliament.

 

The Convention that the Government does not use its majority in the Parliament to decide electoral matters is the cornerstone on which much of the progress that we have made as a country in electoral reform, and the conduct of elections, has been built. It is the foundation on which the electoral system has gained confidence within the country and respect in the international community. The House of Representatives must be commended for acting in the best interest of the country.

 

Yours Sincerely

 

Errol Miller

Chairman, Electoral Commission of Jamaica