Voter re-verification stalled

Thursday, December 07, 2017

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LAWMAKERS have raised strong concerns over the scrapping of the start of voter re-verification by the Electoral Office of Jamaica this year by the Ministry of Finance, with the removal of a $700-million allocation which was made in March from the national budget.

Members of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) noted the withdrawal of the funds while discussing the report on the Government's first supplementary estimates of expenditure for the soon-to-be-ended financial year, at yesterday's meeting at Gordon House.

“The plan was that it would start late in the financial year [but] with three months to go it is not likely to start in this financial year [but] the Ministry of Finance has re-prioritised the budget because of all the other new initiatives and new demands that came to the fore after the budget was approved. So we looked at areas that we could reallocate resources from to other areas that were of higher priority; we are not saying the re-verification will not happen [as] what we have done is push that forward,” deputy financial secretary in the Public Expenditure Division of the Ministry of Finance, Lorris Jarrett, explained. She said the plan is to start the programme next year.

Leader of Opposition Business in the Lower House, Phillip Paulwell said he would be taking up the issue in the House as it has implications for the integrity of the country's electoral process. “I don't think we should treat this lightly. It's really ironic because the minister fought strenuously when he was on the Opposition bench for this re-verification process to start,” he said, pointing out that the Parliament would be in breach of the law, having gone over the stipulated 10-year period for voter re-verification.

“The ECJ (Electoral Commission of Jamaica) has been ready to start. This is a serious matter, we do not want to get back to the stage where political parties are questioning the legitimacy of our list and our elections; this is a priority. Those identification (cards) should come to an end at December 2017 [and] they have extended them, but it is unlawful for us not to do so,” added Paulwell.

Member of Parliament for St Andrew East Rural Juliet Holness proposed that the reverification process could be done at the same that of the registration of persons for the national identification system (NIDS) to save costs. “At that same time that you are coming on the national identification system and possibly through the use of the electoral office we would be in a place where the persons who are on the national voters' list can be registered through NIDS, (and) re-verified at the same time,” she said.

But Paulwell rebutted the idea, which he said would mean that the country will be borrowing to fund its electoral system. “The Jamaican people should pay for it out of our budget. Secondly, NIDS has been caught up with controversy and doubts on the part of the public as to its implementation. That is going to take many months (to resolve), we do not have that luxury in relation to the operations of the ECJ,” he stated.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer after the meeting, Director of Elections Orrette Fisher said the gathering of information for NIDS and the voters' list is bound by different legal parameters. “There are aspects of what we do that could not be ceded to anybody else. I'm not sure whether the NIDS will be doing any residence verification, which is critical to our operation in order to ensure that you don't have any gerrymandering with people voting in areas where they don't reside. Also, we are looking only at persons 18 years and over and NIDS will be seeking to (register) everybody from birth, so some examination of the whole thing would have to be done in a serious way. It's not something that could be done willy-nilly, based on the strict guidelines that we have to operate under,” he said.

— Alphea Saunders

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