Bunting urges protection for director of elections

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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FORMER member of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) and Central Manchester Member of Parliament Peter Bunting says the office of Director of Elections needs to be protected from the whims and fancies of other members on the commission.

Bunting, who joined the ongoing heated public discourse about the ECJ, the reported behaviour of one of the politically appointed commissioners, and the resignation of Orrette Fisher as director of elections, said the position should have security of tenure.

“My own view is that he should not be subject to any member holding over his head the threat of him losing his job if he doesn't behave as they would like. That's not appropriate at all. In fact, I don't even think the nominated members should be a part of the reappointment of the director or maybe even shouldn't be a part of the appointment, because that should really be between the independent members,” he told the Jamaica Observer on Monday.

Bunting stressed that he was expressing his own views as a former member of the commission for 12 years, and not that of the People's National Party (PNP). He insisted that as long as the director is performing during the initial seven years of his/her appointment, the person should be allowed to continue for another term.

“Remember now, this is not contract officers that you just bring in at the end of their career in the private sector; this is somebody who is a career EOJ (Electoral Office of Jamaica) employee… it is reasonable for him to expect to retire in that position,” he stated.

Fisher tendered his resignation on May 14 following months of tension between himself and the ECJ over whether he should be reappointed. His one-year contract ended on October 31 last year, but the former director took the ECJ to court to contest the legality of that one-year appointment, pointing to the seven years set out in law for that position.

Fisher had previously completed an initial seven-year contract, then was reappointed on two one-year contracts between 2015 and 2017. He and his legal team were awaiting a judgement to be handed down on the matter when Fisher quit, citing grave concerns over activities at the EOJ which he said signalled increasing political influence. He also spoke to threatening behaviour by one commissioner.

Meanwhile, Bunting dismissed the argument he said was being made about unanimity in the reappointment of a director. He said there was no such requirement in law, “but yet they did not reappoint him because the JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) members didn't agree. There was no such requirement when he was first appointed, so I don't know where this has come from”, he said.

He said security for the office of director of elections therefore needs to be one of the issues on the table in any move to entrench the commission in the Constitution.

Bunting said he was also recommending term limits of seven years, and that the appointment of selected commissioners should be staggered.

“Don't put all the four selected commissioners' appointment to all expire at the same time [so that] you will always have the institutional memory, because there will be overlaps… so that you would only be changing one of the four at a time rather than all four. Even for the nominated commissioners, I would put a term limit to ensure that the commission is constantly refreshed and so that nobody sort of becomes a tyrant,” he said.

The members of the Dorothy Pine-McLarty-headed commission are: Earl Jarrett (selected); Professor Alvin Wint (selected); Justice Karl Harrison (selected); Julian Robinson, Senator Wensworth Skeffery (both PNP-selected); Aundre Franklin, Senator Thomas Tavares-Finson (both JLP-nominated). The director of elections is the ninth member.




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