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The Silly Season is Here - August 29, 2005

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The Silly Season is Here


If one needed any reminder that we are entering the silly season, the sitting of the House of Assembly on Tuesday, August 6, 2005 certainly provided it. That sitting was not without its usual theatre and drama. The Speaker of the House, Honourable Baden Allain, announced that he and the Member of Parliament for Castries Central, Mrs. Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, had jointly reviewed the tapes of the 2005/2006 Budget Debate to ascertain whether I made certain statements alleged by Mrs. Flood Beaubrun during the closing session of the Budget Debate. He concluded that Mrs. Sarah Flood-Beaubrun had indeed misrepresented the statements which I had made. The Speaker invited the Castries Central MP to apologize and withdraw her statements. As expected, she refused. Predictably, she chose to leave the House only to later cry foul, and allege that a deliberate attempt had been made to silence her from speaking against the amendments to the Election Act to introduce scrutineers to monitor the enumeration of voters.


How can Mrs. Flood-Beaubrun’s decision to leave the House be interpreted as a deliberate attempt by the Government to silence the Castries Central MP as she now claims? The decision by the Castries Central MP to leave the House was not a consequence of whether or not she indeed misrepresented what I said during the Budget Debate. Rather, it was a direct consequence of Mrs. Flood-Beaubrun’s refusal to abide by the Speaker’s ruling. The only person responsible for silencing Mrs. Flood-Beaubrun, is Mrs. Flood-Beaubrun herself.


The Government is aware that a clean voters’ registration list is central to fair and democratic elections. The Government of the Saint Lucia Labour Party is also aware that before the next General Election is called, it is vitally important that all the necessary steps are taken to ensure that the election is free, fair and reflects the genuine wishes of the voters.

This Government treats the business of elections and the selection of a Government to run the affairs of this country as matters of grave importance. The right to vote came at a price. It was the Saint Lucia Labour Party and other patriots who fought for it. Many sacrificed their lives to ensure that the right to vote was a right to be enjoyed by all Saint Lucians irrespective of class, colour, race or creed. The Government of the Saint Lucia Labour Party is committed to upholding and preserving that fundamental democratic right and will do nothing to compromise that right. It is for that reason that Government introduced the Elections Amendment Act which was debated in Parliament during the August 6 sitting of the House of Assembly. The Government wanted an enumeration exercise that is fair and beyond reproach.


But there are other fundamental reasons why this enumeration exercise must be done and must be done now. Since 1979 no comprehensive review of the voters list has ever been done notwithstanding that on numerous occasions the Saint Lucia Labour Party, while in opposition, called for the list to be scrapped. In the past and especially during the periods leading up to a general election, the voters’ registration list has been periodically updated.

The periodical updating of the voters’ registration merely included the names of individuals who had attained the voting age of 18 years. This means that the voters’ list which has been used for the past six general elections was the one compiled as far back as 1979. Surely, all will agree that such a state of affairs cannot be good for the promotion and development of our democracy.

For over twenty-six years we have been using a voters’ registration list which was never sanitized. The Elections Act, although making provisions for persons, who have not been resident in Saint Lucia after a period of three years to be removed from the list, provided no means to achieve this. Likewise, no mechanism existed to cleanse the list of persons who had died, or as my dear friend, Velon John, would say, have unfortunately met their terresterial demise.

That being the case then it must be obvious to all and sundry that the voters’ list is inflated and does not truly reflect the number of persons eligible to vote in Saint Lucia. As I pointed out in Parliament during the debate, if that is the case, then it is impossible to accurately measure voter turnout.

According to official data from the Electoral Department, the total number of registered voters in the 2001 General Elections stood at 119,844 out of a population of just over one 150,000 persons. Out of the 119,844 persons registered to vote, 62,655 actually voted. In 1997, according to the Electoral Department 111,330 persons were registered to vote out of a population approximately 145,000. Out of that figure 73,535 persons actually voted. However, a close examination of these figures would indicate that the ratio of registered voters to the population for both of these election periods are unusually high. It also stands to reason that if the ratio of registered voters to the population is so high then the voters’ registration list is inaccurate and is not reflective of the actual number of registered voters.

Amazingly, after more than thirty-years in office, Sir John Compton wrote to CARICOM after the 2001 General Election complaining about inaccuracies in the voters list. He never saw it fit to undertake a comprehensive review of the electoral list before and after 1979 despite repeated calls by the Labour Party when it was in Opposition for him to do so. Apparently, some politicians only discover what is right when they are in opposition.


Why should scrutineers, a mechanism which is designed to safeguard the integrity of the enumeration process be elevated to a bone of contention? Well, it is alleged that the Government plans to rig the next general elections and the scrutineer system is the tool which will be employed to do so. Ask yourself this simple question: Would any Government, which intends to rig an election, invite individuals including Opposition representatives to observe a process by which it intends to defraud the electorate of their democratic and constitutional right? How absurd we can we get!

Others claim that while the introduction of the scrutineer system is not bad in itself, it is the process by which the scrutineers will be chosen that constitutes the problem.

All that has happened is this. In order to avoid accusations of unfairness in registering voters, both the Government and the Opposition will be allotted an equal number of scrutineers, which is 88. So it is not to say that the Opposition will be disadvantaged in any way because the Government side has been allocated a greater number of scrutineers. So, there is no disparity between the Government side and the Opposition as is being claimed. An issue only arose because ONE is of the view that it should be permitted scrutineers as well.

However, the Constitution speaks clearly and unambiguously on this subject. The Saint Lucian Constitution as has been explained time and time again, neither recognizes nor makes provision for political parties. As such, provision is made for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, to undertake constitutional duties and functions. So it is therefore, left to the opposition parties to work with the Leader of the Opposition, Honourable Marcus Nicholas, to find a formula whereby their parties are involved in the process of selecting scrutineers.


Scrutineers will be appointed mainly as observers in the enumeration process. As explained, the number of scrutineers that will be appointed will be 88, one for every polling station. You may be asking why 88 when we only have 86 polling stations. This is because two of the polling stations are too large to have only one scrutineer. The main function of the scrutineers will be to accompany the enumerators to the polling divisions to which they have been assigned. They will also be expected to sign Certificates of Enumeration issued by enumerators during the house-to house exercise. However, they are not to interfere in the process. Complaints and irregularities are to be recorded and reported to the Electoral Department.


Furthermore, it is not enough for the MP for Castries Central to make reference to the various systems which have been adopted and used in other parts of the region. The systems of scrutineers employed in these countries may have been informed by the peculiarities of those political systems. For example, in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago race is a very important political consideration and would have influenced the manner in which scrutineers were appointed. Similarly, the nature of the political system would also be important. In Guyana where a proportional system of Government obtains as opposed to a first past the post system, different considerations may have been given as to how the scrutineers were selected.


It would do Mrs. Flood-Beaubrun well to remember that she won the Castries Central seat on a Labour Party ticket. She did not win Castries Central on a ONE ticket. She did so using the resources and structure provided by the Saint Lucia Labour Party. In fact, the honourable thing for Mrs. Flood-Beaubrun to have done once she parted company with the Labour Party, was to resign her seat in Parliament and put herself through a by-election. It is only then she would have known whether she had successfully transferred the Labour Party votes which she won in 2001 onto herself or ONE. But to do this without the consent of the voters of Castries Central was unfair and an abuse of their trust and loyalty. In any event this may well be “water under the bridge” since the issue will soon be settled.


So, fellow Saint Lucians, the scrutineers are there only to uphold the integrity of the process. The process is not intended to create an unfair advantage for any political party; it is intended rather to uphold and protect the democratic process and your constitutional right to a free and fair election.

Think about it and support the enumeration exercise.

Until next week, be of good cheer and may God bless you.


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