If Health Minister, Nickolas Steele is to be believed then Governor General Dame Cecile La Grenade might have bowled a very significant ball in removing in one swoop of the pen several of the Returning Officers from the Parliamentary Electoral Office.
Mr. Steele told reporters on Tuesday at the weekly post-Cabinet press briefing that the GG’s action was not political but came about due to the age of some of the Returning Officers while others were sent packing because they no longer live in the Constituency in which they were assigned to supervise.
There has been no official statement issued by Dame Cecile for her actions and the Health Minister is no fool to come out and make such a public utterance about the highest office in the land that is not true.
THE NEW TODAY has spoken to one of the affected Returning Officers from the Constituency of St. John who told us that he is 62 years of age and will be taking 63 this year.
This officer lives in the Constituency that he is assigned so therefore one can assume that he was dismissed by the Governor General on the grounds of age.
This newspaper is not opposed to any official policy that is sending a clear signal about empowering the youthful population of the nation.
Is Dame Cecile sending a message to Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell that at age 70 he should step aside for a much younger person to run the affairs of the country?
What about Deputy Prime Minister, Elvin Nimrod who is older than the Prime Minister and is much closer to 75 than age 70?
If this is the message being sent out then the measuring stick should also apply to the aging Minister of Works, Gregory Bowen who is over 60.
Dame Cecile might also be affected by her own yard stick being planted since she is over 60 – the official age limit for public officers to retire from active duties.
The Returning Officers who are just over 60 and given dismissal letters might quite rightfully be upset since a number of retirees were brought back into the service following the outcome of the 2013 general election when Dr. Mitchell was returned to power after 5 years in the political wilderness.
The over 60’s in the service who fall into the retiree category include -Lenora George, the person now in charge of the SEED programme in the Ministry of Social Development, Cabinet Secretary, Beryl Isaac, Acting Commissioner of Police, Winston James, Ambrose Obike, the Accountant General in the Ministry of Finance, and Fitzroy James, Head of Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Finance.
The signal from the GG about wanting Returning Officers to serve only in the Constituency in which they live might also be questionable from a logistical point of view.
Given the defining boundaries in some of the parishes that separate constituencies, an individual can serve either St. Andrew South-West and St. Andrew South-east or St. George South-east and South St. George with equal competence and distinction.
In the current scheme of things, there are three current elected Members of Parliament that live outside of the Constituencies in which they were elected to serve.
Education Minister Anthony Boatswain lives in St. Paul’s but is the MP for St. Patrick West which is about 30 miles away, Health Minister Steele lives in Egmont but is the MP for the Town of St. George and Works Minister Gregory Bowen lives in Golf Course but represents St. George South-east.
Is Dame Cecile trying to send out a subtle message to the electorate to only vote for MP’s that live in the constituency?
THE NEW TODAY is also concerned about the abrupt manner in which the Returning Officers were sacked by the Head of State with little or no notice to make alternative arrangements to put food on the table for their families.
A more decent and honourable way was to give the affected Returning Officers at least 3 months notice so they can make adjustments due to the lost income that will affect their present standard of living.
Public Officers know long in advance that they have to prepare themselves for life after 60 – the mandatory age to leave the service.
Why treat our senior citizens in that manner? This is not De La Grenade Industry but the business of the State.
The Prime Minister himself has given many signals that 2017 will be an election year in Grenada.
It is baffling why these wholesale changes are being made at this point in time and not a year ago to give the new Returning Officers sufficient time to settle down on the job.
It is not surprising that the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) will interpret the GG’s action as one that can pave the way for rigging of the next general election.
THE NEW TODAY believes that this is not far-fetched in light of information which surfaced prior to the 2003 general election and confirmed by the then Assistant Supervisor of Elections, Emmanuel Roberts that approaches were made to him to switch some names between the Constituencies of South St. George and St. George South-east.
The immediate resignation of Ada Holder from the Electoral Office in the wake of these mass dismissals of Returning Officers is enough to send a signal that all is not well at the Electoral Office in an Election Year.