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Former ECJ commissioner says body should be entrenched in Constitution

BY ALICIA SUTHERLAND
Observer staff reporter
sutherlanda@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Peter Bunting, former commissioner of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), said, over time, politics has crept into a number of organisations but that it should not be allowed to happen to a body that is responsible for ensuring free and fair elections.

He noted that it was the virtual civil war of 1980 — when there were several murders, the majority of which were associated with political violence — which prompted its genesis.

Bunting said that an agreement by leaders at the time that those actions could not continue, resulted in the birth of the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC).

“Later on [it] was established in law and statute as the Electoral Commission of Jamaica. You had a couple decades of the EAC and then… they passed a law establishing the Electoral Commission of Jamaica. In fact, it's an interim law because the intention was that it would be entrenched in the Constitution of Jamaica, which is how important it is to our democracy,” he told a gathering Sunday night at a divisional conference at the Manchester High School in Central Manchester, where he serves as the Member of Parliament.

Bunting said that the ECJ is an example to the rest of the region and is recognised internationally.

However, the issues with the former Director of Elections Orrette Fisher, in recent weeks, he said, is both a threat to the organisation's reputation and democracy.

“I gave a lot of hours of my life and a lot of my ideas and time to that organisation. It is because it is such an important organisation to our democracy why I feel I have to talk about it… What is happening now sends an urgent message to the powers that be that perhaps the time is now, sooner rather than later, to move to entrench the ECJ in the Constitution of Jamaica,” said Bunting.

He added: “When we have the former director, somebody who served 23 years with distinction at the Electoral Office of Jamaica, 10 of those years as director of elections, somebody who has not been embroiled in any controversy, always acting and speaking responsibly, when he wants, upon his departure, [to talk about the issues] and release a number of letters to the media to substantiate the fact that he has been harassed, literally harassed out of the post by… a specific JLP-appointed commissioner, it raises a red flag to all well-thinking persons in this country, not just the Opposition…”

Bunting alleged that the specific commissioner, whom he did not name but described as “errant”, came in with an agenda, and said that the hostility started early in his appointment.

The former commissioner said, too, that he was disappointed to hear that the “so-called” independent commissioners have allowed the situation to degenerate until the director of elections was “harassed” out of office for no good reason other than “partisan political considerations”.

Bunting also said that if Prime Minister Andrew Holness does not have a sense of history to see the urgent need to have a more responsible commissioner in the post, he should talk to his mentor and former leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, Edward Seaga.

A number of speakers at the conference argued that Holness was too silent on important issues.

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