International delegates observe 1st day of electoral reform consultations in Dominica

International delegates observe 1st day of electoral reform consultations in Dominica
International delegates observe 1st day of electoral reform consultations in Dominica

Roseau, Dominica: Prime Minister Dr Roosevelt Skerrit stated that international delegates arrived in Dominica to observe first day of public consultations for electoral reform. The first day of consultations was held on Monday, where representatives from Organization of American States, The Commonwealth, CARICOM and the OECS were also present.

Speaking during the press conference, PM Roosevelt Skerrit said that consultations on the review of Dominica’s electoral system, conducted by Sir Dennis Byron, commenced Monday evening at 7 pm at the State House Conference Center.

He said, “The Organization of American States, The Commonwealth, CARICOM and the OECS have all taken up my written invitation to send representatives to attend and observe the consultations; and they arrived here over the weekend.”

On the first day of the series of the public consultations, the phases of the report of the Sir Dennis Bryon have been explained. During the live telecast of the consultation, the following aspects were outlined:

 The phase 1 will focus on the voter identification and voter registration system. Two bills will also included named Regulation of Electors Bill 2023 and a Registration of Electors Bill 2023 (also known as new registration of electors act 2023) to describe the legislative framework.

As per Dennis Byron, these pieces of legislations are necessary to modernize the current electoral system and bring conformity with the international best practices.

The Phase 2 will primarily focus on the following aspects:

  • Electoral process: It will focus on the access to the media and campaign financing
  • Electoral Commission: The focus of the aspect will be composition of the commission, financial autonomy, appointment of committees, the process of the resignation from the commission and the protection of the commission and its members.
  • New legislation: The report proposed four phases of legislation which will include House of Assembly (Elections) Bill 2023, House of Assembly (Electors) Regulations 2023, House of Assembly Election Petition Rules 2023 and Electoral Commission Bill 2023.

THE REPORT – PHASE 1

The Draft Regulation of Electors Act is a physical component of the legislative framework that Sir Dennis Byron proposes should be put in place and reflects the recommendations which have been made and those recommendations as indicated intended to address the following aspects:

  • The list or register the introduction of identification cards or other photos like proposal identification
  • Introduction of a voter registration system

The Registration of Electors Act 2023 is divided into six parts which substantively align with the existing registration of electors act and is intended to repeal and replace the existing REA.

The most significant parts of the act or the bill, from a reform perspective are Parts III and V which introduces new concepts and provisions intended to give effect to the recommendations made in the report in relation to registration of electors.

Further, the consultation also talked about the voters who are absent from Dominica.

The Report proposes that Clause 7(c) which emphasized that there should be repealed and replaced with Clause 26(1) of the new REA, which would:

➤abolish the existing requirement simply to be in Dominica at least once in the relevant 5-year period,

➤replace this with a requirement to spend at least 90 (or alternatively 50) days in Dominica in the 5 year period.

Verification

Registration:

The element of the verification process is Registration. This is addressed at Clause 7 and Clause 9(1) of the REA.

Clauses 7 and 9(1) largely reflect Section 5 and 8(1) of the existing REA, and do not alter the existing requirements in relation to registration other than and does not alter the existing requirements in relation to registration other than two recommendations reflected in Clause 7(2) and 7(3) providing for –

  • 17-year-olds to apply for registration (though their name will not be placed on the register of electors unless and until s/he attains 18 years of age); and
  • State employees stationed overseas (e.g. diplomats and staff) to be deemed to reside at a specified address (previously notified by declaration to the Chief Registration Officer)

Identification Cards

  • Another element of the verification process relates to the introduction of mandatory use of voter/national identification cards for the purposes of voting.
  • This is reflected in Clause 11 of the new REA which is proposed to repeal and replace Section 19 of the existing REA which merely authorised the CRO to issue ID cards.

Part V consists of Clauses 50 to 56, and deals with Confirmation of Registration. This final element of the “verification process” sets out the process involved, and what is required of those whose names are in the register of electors and are desirous of having their names remain in the register.

This Part authorises the Electoral Commission to –

  • declare a period during which the confirmation shall take place;
  • facilitate the confirmation of registration persons who are overseas during the confirmation period;
  • nsure that adequate resources are made available to carry out the confirmation process in an efficient and timely manner; and prescribe regulations to give full effect to the provisions of the REA relating to the confirmation of registration of electors.

THE REPORT- PHASE 2

Phase 2 of Sir Dennis’ Report primarily seeks to address ‘institutional matters’. The most substantive recommendations from the Phase 2 Report are reflected in following Parts of the House of Assembly (Elections) Act 2023 (the new HAEA)-

  • Part III, Clause 50 – Access to media
  • Part IV – Use of electronic voting system
  • Part V – Campaign financing
  • Part VII – Election petitions.

Access to Media — [Part III, Clause 50]

  • Clause 50 of the new HAEA proposes a substantive change in the electoral landscape, namely the introduction of mandatory entitlement of political parties and independent candidates to have access to state- owned media during the campaign period.
  • The Report proposes that access must be “on the principles of total impartiality, non-discrimination, and equal time”, and the Electoral Commission will be required to monitor the equitable airtime and issue directives as necessary to media agencies.

Clause 54 defines “campaign period” as follows:

(a) in relation to a general election –

  • the period commencing on the earlier of-
  • the day immediately following the last day of the period of fifty-four months commencing from the term of office of the Government, or such other period as the Commission may specify by order subject to affirmative resolution; or
  • the day on which the date of the election is officially announced by or on behalf of the Prime Minister; and
  • ending twenty-four hours before the time fixed for the opening of the polls on election day.

Electronic Voting System – Part IV (Clauses 51 to 53)

  • This Part reflects the recommendation which proposes a change in the law to provide for the conduct of elections by means of an approved electronic voting system.
  • These provisions provide for various checks and balances and requirements which would have to be in place and be satisfied to enable the use of an electronic voting system in conducting an election in Dominica.

Political Campaign Financing- Part V

As stated by Sir Dennis Bryon:

“The financing of political parties and election campaigns is a matter of political discord and was part of the tumultuous background which led to this reform process. The public discussion as well as my consultations on this issue have been marked by some acrimonious commentary… The regulation of political and campaign financing is not new to the Commonwealth Caribbean. Elements of regulation [of campaign financing] can be found in the legislation of some countries in the region although the only one to have enacted a comprehensive regulatory framework is Jamaica.”

The Report recommends the creation of the following offences and maximum penalties –

  • $6,000 or 12 months imprisonment [Clauses 57(3)]
  • $6,000 [Clauses 64(4) & 68(4)]
  • $10,000 [Clauses 64(3), 69(3) & (4)) and $10,000] or 12 months imprisonment [Clause 70],

Election Petitions–Part VII (Clauses 91 to 94) –

These provisions essentially reflect the related provisions (Sections 65 to 68 of the existing REA), but Sir Dennis proposes a new introduction by way of the House of Assembly (Elections Petition) Rules 2023. These would remain in force unless and until the Chief Justice decides to revoke or amend them as s/he sees fit.

Further, Prime Minister Dr Roosevelt Skerrit also asked the suggestions of the public on the report of the Sir Dennis Byron.

While inviting suggestions of the public, PM Skerrit noted, ”I cannot stress enough the importance of this exercise. All Dominicans have been invited to lend their voice to the discussion, which will take place over a two-week period until August 28.”

He said that as a Prime Minister, he wanted to see this process through to its conclusion by year end so that the legislation can be passed and enacted into law.

He wished to use this opportunity to call on all Dominicans to take an active part in the process. Electoral reform is a national issue and it is my wish that every Dominican, whether here or abroad, feels part of the process.

The first group consultation scheduled for this evening is for members of the legal fraternity; and on Tuesday, representatives of political parties and independent election candidates will have their turn at the same venue and time.

The country has also scheduled consultations for members of the public service, religious organizations, trade unions, business associations, youth-based organizations, sports associations, and the media; as well as for medical professionals, engineers and contractors and managers of financial services, among other groups. Sessions are also planned at the district level and virtually for members of the diaspora.