Your Excellencies Professor Kenneth Hall and Mrs Rheima Hall, Leader of the Opposition Honourable Bruce Golding and Mrs Golding, Chief Justice the Honourable Lensley Wolfe, Dr the Honourable Peter Phillips representing the Prime Minister, and Mrs Phillips, Honourable Donald Buchannan and Mrs Buchannan, other Ministers of Government, Members of Parliament, Honourees of the Electoral Advisory Committee and invited guests, Ladies and Gentlemen all on behalf of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica it is my great pleasure and singular honour to welcome you to this function this evening.
Milestones are important in any journey, more so in the journey of a nation and a people. Marking particular milestones with ceremony and ritual is important not only to celebrate triumph over troubles, trials, and tribulation and to rejoice over the defeat of disappointments, despair, and disillusionment along the way but equally important to draw inspiration and muster the courage for the journey that still lay ahead. This evening marks a very important milestone in the journey of the Jamaican people and nation along the road of democratic governance in which the sovereign people hold their elected representatives accountable.
We often pay tribute to our former colonial masters for bequeathing to our representative democracy and the Westminster form of government. Often ignored is the legacy of corruption replete with the mechanisms by which that legacy was perpetuated. Government control of the electoral machinery was one such mechanism for it allowed those in office to manipulate the electoral mechanism for their own benefit and at the expense of the people they were elected to serve.
Twenty-nine years ago, in the throes of the greatest crisis of the political system of our young nation, the leaders of the Jamaica Labour Party and Peoples National Party found it within themselves to envision a future electoral system for Jamaica that was fundamentally different from that inherited from the colonial masters. Vision was translated into political will and political will into the legislation which brought into being the mechanism of the Electoral Advisory Committee, EAC, appointed by the Governor-General after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. That legislation gave promise of an Electoral Commission which would succeed the EAC.
The mandate of this new mechanism called the EAC was two-fold. First, was to redeem the corrupt past, with a history of over three hundred years of malpractices. Second, was to construct and establish an electoral system based on what is good for the country, fair to all who participated in it and what is right by any standard. From its inception in 1979 to its dissolution in 2006, the EAC was constituted from the inputs from four Prime Ministers, three Leaders of the Opposition and three Governors-General. The Committee was served by 20 Nominated Members, 13 Selected Members and six Directors of Election.
Tonight we gather to give thanks and to celebrate the success of the EAC in completing its section of the journey in transforming our electoral system. Great progress has been made in redeeming the past and in constructing an electoral system that is fair and just. The promised Electoral Commission is in place. In this Thanksgiving and celebration we must salute the choices made by the Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition in nominating their members, the wisdom and persuasive powers of the Governors-General in getting agreements on Selected Members and convincing them to serve, and the service of those who sat as Nominated and Selected Members and Directors of Election.
But even on this night of thanksgiving and celebration let the truth be told. In its 27 years of existence, the work of the EAC was sometimes embroiled in controversy. There were episodes of deep distrust among its members. There were periods of great frustration. There were incidents in which tempers flared and the language used was not that of civilised intercourse. Nominated Members were on occasion accused by their colleagues of ‘selling them out’ or of incompetence in representation. At times Selected Members had their integrity questioned in public and their good names dragged through the dirt of unsupported innuendos.
But let the records show that despite the machinations of vigorous and dynamic engagement with the mandate that had been given, the Members of the EAC and the Directors of Elections drew upon reserves of grace, displayed great courage, took hard decisions, exercised great wisdom and served with a deep sense of honour and duty. Tonight we honour these members of the EAC and Directors of Election who justified the faith that was placed in them, performed the duties that were demanded of them and did so with integrity.
Your Excellencies, colleagues, ladies, and gentlemen I throw myself upon your generosity in venturing into the dangerous waters of singling out two particular individual Members of the EAC and one particular group of EAC Members. I wish to pay special tribute to the late Professor the Honourable Gladstone Mills the first Chairman of the EAC and its longest-serving member. No praise can be too high for the contribution he made to the institution being honoured tonight. I wish also to pay special tribute to Mr. Ryan Peralto for the patriotism demonstrated with respect to the patenting of the Electronic Identification of the Voter and Ballot Issuing System, which now makes Jamaica world leaders in using biometric data to identify electors. I wish also to pay special tribute to the members of the First EAC appointed in 1979. You, my colleagues, laid the foundation and established the precedents on which all succeeding EACs built. The success of the EAC was framed and fashioned by your perspicacity. I would ask the Members of that EAC, and the relatives representing those who are absent, to stand so that you can be specially recognised.
Your Excellencies, distinguished and esteemed ladies and gentlemen all, I bid you welcome and wish that this evening will be truly memorable when in later days you recall why we gathered here tonight, what we celebrated and who we honoured.