The office of the Supervisor of Elections is actually the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO), in which the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) is assigned with the primary role of exercising general supervision over the registration of voters in elections of the members of the House of Representatives and over the conduct of such elections, within statutory provisions under the Representation of the People Act (RPA, CAP. 286A); and when it is necessary or expedient, the SOE is to report to the House of Representatives on the exercise of his functions by submitting every such report to the Minister for the time being responsible for matters relating to the election of the members to the House and that Minister shall, not later than seven days after the House first meets after receiving the report, lay it before the House.
The PEO is of constitutional establishment and esteem, and has been endorsed for independent functioning in accordance with section 35 of the constitution.
It would be instructive to ascertain at this juncture, who is the Minister in the government of Grenada responsible for matters relating to the functioning of the PEO and when was the last time that any report on such matters submitted by the SOE to that Minister and then presented in Parliament. For the PEO to turn away from or to ignore, or even to reject or to relax on accountability, transparency and integrity, as well as from being proactive and abiding by the official Oaths, is to declare its Philosophy, Mission and Vision in “the advancement of democracy for all citizens”, as a hoax. Is the PEO meeting its constitutional obligations? Patriotic Grenadians of worth need to rally to challenge the modus operandi and status quo of the PEO, considering that general elections pronounce the legitimate consent of the sovereign people for their political governance and that election petitions on offences during the conduct of elections are often brought to naught.
A constitutional court-case ought to be pursued under the application of section 101 of the constitution, in order to determine whether or not the PEO is operating with honest intent in the spirit of its establishment and esteem, and to affirm that it is necessary and expedient for the PEO to report to the House of Representatives on the exercise of its functions as outlined under section 35; and for the court to order that the PEO implements all justifiable and realistic measures for securing its credibility and preparedness before any next elections.
A significant aspect on the preparedness and credibility of the PEO is about its ‘capacity and due diligence and efficiency’ for the registration of voters and the finalization of the current voters’ list. The electorate must be satisfied before going into any elections that the appropriate staff and resources are available and that all of the parameters and conditions are met, at the PEO. For example; is the PEO, including the various Parliamentary Election Constituency Offices (PECOs), operating with the required full fleet, including at least two fit and proper Assistant Supervisors of Elections? It would be an outright atrocious conspiracy for registration officers and other personnel to be haphazardly replaced, or for pertinent vacancies be filled, on the verge of elections. This is even more frightening now, considering that a snap election could be called within the next year; review the previously internet-circulated article “General Election in Grenada during COVID-19 State of Emergency”.
Serious allegations and concerns have been leveled against the PEO time and time again, with persistent calls for genuine electoral reforms; unfortunately however, there have not been any appropriate responses, clear signals, expressed goodwill and unwavering efforts to improve the electoral machinery comprehensively. Recall the internet-circulated article, “Open Letter to Grenada’s Supervisor Of Elections”, which sought clarification and information on the registration of voters, the conduct of elections and the performance of the SOE subject to the RPA; the letter originated from some of the disquieting irregularities continued to be raised by the public. A contentious issue is about the processing and delivery and purpose of the Voter Identification Card for elections, and with a reasonable conclusion that the PEO offensively delays the issuance of cards to duly registered electors and announces to the public that the card is not necessary for voting; as highlighted in the subsequently circulated article “Could Grenada’s 2018 Voting Be Declared Unethical And Illegal?”
Constitutional lawyer, Dr Lawrence A Joseph, illustrates through a circulated article in the local press during September 2012, “Can the system which registers voters be compromised?” that the democratic process is at stake when the PEO “unceremoniously brushed aside …. legitimate concerns”. Although Joseph was writing in the interest of the New National Party (NNP) then in opposition, the article is now of great worth. He concentrated on the electoral debacle posed by the stealing of two computer systems belonging to the PEO, sometime in May 2012. Such computer system consists essentially of “a computer, a digital scanner, a digital camera, a digital signature pad, a digital fingerprint reader, …. ” and forms part of the necessary equipment supplied to the registration officer of each PECO, in the establishment of “a single, uniform, non-discriminatory, centralised, interactive computerised voter registration system;” as RPA, Section 8 and First Schedule, instructs.
Critically outstanding is the need to unravel and unearth the conditions and culprits with regard to the stolen computer systems, especially considering the reality that those machines can be manipulated or be modified to hack into the main hub of the electoral machinery in order to bias the outcomes of elections. Dr. Joseph applied the criminal activity and its resulting ills for gains, to make his point that indeed the system which registers voters can be compromised; and this same argument is even more true and compelling today, as tremendous suspicions about the involvement of external forces, like Russian expertise and Cambridge Analytica, in the electoral processes prevail. The computers could well be used to assist in facilitating such forces in connecting to the central system. The accessibility, security and integrity of the central computerised voting system must be in question, in terms of software encryption and physical contact; the registration of voters, the casting of votes, and the calculating and registering of the votes can be tracked down, and thus corrupt the results of elections.
Have the investigations (if any) on this far-reaching criminal matter of the stolen computer systems used for the registration of voters closed; when there are disturbing indicators, at least with the manner of the results of the 2013 and 2018 elections and the trends of the leading political players? Is the Director of Audit (section 82 and 87 of the constitution) also responsible for surveying the accounts (including stocks) of the PEO, within the statutory financial rules and regulations; and thus (if so) was a report about the theft or the missing of the computer systems laid in Parliament and was pertinent police action instigated? In going forward, the Grenadian people also need to be updated or to be reminded on the judgement pertaining to the legal action purported to have been taken by the NNP against the SOE on failure to adhere to the laws guiding the PEO; as reported in the local press in October of 2012. Political conspiracies and gimmicks make it ‘impossible’ to unmask anyone / anything; but this heartless scenario should not retard patriotic persons to rally for remedy, justice and progress.
The seemingly mysterious, questionable, treacherous and injudicious approach of the PEO continues with the confusion in the administration of the expired Voter Identification Cards. The failure of the PEO to define and demonstrate fully whether the replacement process of the expired cards is actually about a re-registration or a re-issuance consistent with the RPA, coupled with the inconvenience and annoyance caused to a person because of not ‘within reasonable time’ receiving the replaced card, can also degenerate into ‘operational lawsuits’; recall the pertinent circulated articles, “Grenada’s Voting Process Setting For More Controversies And Contempt” and “Grenada’s Voting Process : Despite Confusing Signals NDC Encourages Compliance !”.
Moreover, what credence and respect does the PEO give to the expert reports of the overseas ‘Monitoring Elections Missions’, including those of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)? Although the PEO has no control over vote buying, it can act to prevent forcefully voter padding. Although the PEO cannot control campaign financing, it can act to provide equitably sound material for the elections. Although the PEO cannot control the granting of citizenship, it can act to ensure thoroughly that the qualifications for voting are met. How sensible and sensitive is the SOE / PEO to the recommendations offered on electoral reforms, toward free and fair elections? Also review the past circulated article “Open Letter for verdict on Grenada’s Parliamentary Elections Office”, stressing for the display of the independence of the PEO essentially from the interference by the contending politicians and from the abuse by the political directorate.
Once again, here it is an urgent alarm bell! All and sundry who is gravely resolved to rescue Grenada must reflect and analyse the situation prudently and act accordingly; political parties, civil society, social activists, intellectual commentators, institutional bodies, professed Christians, good citizens and bastions of democracy please come forward. Are we very blind, exhausted, reserved, and / or doomed or plagued, and thus cannot realize what is the paramount issue in deciding how to enter government; recall the internet article, “Could Grenada’s Democracy Be Saved?” ‘Reactive protest’ in the form of injunction against the holding of elections, boycotting of elections, judicial review of elections’ results cannot compensate for the expediency or the opportunity lost. In the matrix of politics and governance, the electoral machinery is key and must be of priority.
By J K Roberts, Sound Public Policies Advocate