Dame Cecile E. F. La Grenade
Office of the Governor General
February 24th 2017
May it please Your Excellency,
Re: Mass- Termination of Registration Officers of the Parliamentary Elections Office
I am constrained, as leader of one of two main political parties in Grenada, to register with you the absolute horror and disbelief of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and indeed, the collective dismay and disappointment of many decent and law-abiding Grenadians, over the decision to terminate en-mass, and with immediate effect, the appointment of as many as ten (10) Registration Officers attached to the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, at this most critical time on the eve of general elections.
It has been brought to our attention that while acting in your own deliberate judgment, your Excellency, on Monday February 20th 2017 terminated the appointment of ten (10) of the fifteen (15) Registration/Returning Officers of the Parliamentary Elections Office with immediate effect from their positions.
Your Excellency is no doubt well aware of the enormous role that Registration Officers play in our electoral process. Moreover, in the normal course, upon the issuance of a Writ of Election, these officers are designated as the Returning Officers responsible for the conduct of the poll on election day. Taken together, these Registration/Returning Officers are responsible under the Representation of the People Act, for among other things, the following:
(1). Preparing the list of electors and causing that list to be updated on a continuous basis;
(2). Ensuring that persons who are not qualified to be registered in the specific polling divisions are not so registered;
(3). In registering electors, ensuring that all the requirements of the law are met;
(4). Hearing and determining appeals from aggrieved electors;
(5). Establishing and maintaining offices in the 15 constituencies of Grenada;
(6). When the election writ is issued, attending to the nomination of candidates;
(7). Having conduct of the poll on election day.
It follows from the above, that Registration/Returning Officers are the engines that propel the election machinery. As such, to efficiently execute their functions and duties, they require a great deal of training, expert knowledge of and experience with the system and the electoral process.
As you are no doubt aware, general elections were last held on February 19, 2013. This being so, it follows that under our constitutional arrangement, elections are constitutionally due within the next 52 weeks. Your Excellency’s decision to dismiss ten (10) of the fifteen (15) Registration Officers with an election imminent, begs the question whether that decision, though in your own deliberate judgment, was taken with the requisite reasonableness and due consideration.
In particular, it raises serious doubts as to whether there was sufficient due deliberation on the existing circumstances in our country; the possible consequences of your Excellency’s actions; their implications for our democracy and institutions; and the confidence of the citizenry in the actions of those in authority.
To the best of our knowledge and belief, most of these Registration Officers have been employed as Registration Officers at the Parliamentary Elections Office for many years and are unquestionably the most experienced persons in Grenada in this most critical area.
They are the ones most familiar with the new Voter Registration System introduced in 2012. In recognition of this fact, they have had their contracts routinely renewed when they come up for renewal.
In our view, the decision to remove these Officers at a time when the country is preparing for general elections (which must take place within the next 52 weeks) would make it exceedingly difficult to prepare and train new Registration Officers and bring them up to the level of skill and expertise required to independently conduct this most important poll. Your Excellency, this is most worrisome and frankly frightening, with an election so close at hand.
Moreover, we are advised that the Deputy Supervisor of Elections, Ms. Ada Holder, a most professional woman of integrity and principle, with over thirty (30) years experience in electoral administration, and the person with the greatest expertise and institutional knowledge of the new Voter Registration System, was so disappointed and incensed by this action that she tendered her resignation in protest with immediate effect.
To our alarm, we are advised that these terminations were not only entirely unprovoked, but came as a complete surprise to the Supervisor of Elections, and without warning or prior notification to the affected officers. Of course, we are in no position to address the accuracy of this claim. However, should this really be the case, we would consider this development an extremely dangerous one – representing an affront to our democratic traditions and striking at the very heart of our democratic system.
To the best of our knowledge, the political parties and the Grenadian people in general were left in the dark on the plan to effect these dramatic changes. This is yet another cause for our deep worry.
Frankly, it seems to us that one of the most essential pillars of our democracy is under threat of being so severely compromised, that the will of the people may be stifled.
Your Excellency, we regard these changes embarked upon as extremely unprecedented, to say the least. As far as most in Grenada can recall, never before has such mass dismissals occurred at an Electoral Office and certainly, never in an election year! We are concerned that this mass-firing of the Registration Officers will very likely be construed as a purge of the electoral system and as a willful and deliberate attempt to rid the system of persons who would not be prepared to do anyone’s bidding.
This unprecedented action throws our nation into a full-blown electoral crisis. The possible consequences of this action are grave and far reaching. It is indeed not in the best interest of our country to potentially cause the result of a general election to be skewed or otherwise called into question because the election officers were largely untrained and completely inexperienced for the job. In our view, this creates a thick cloud of suspicion at a time when it is neither warranted nor in our collective interest.
Your Excellency, please be assured that the very grave implications of your actions which I have outlined above are real and the sentiments I have expressed are not only those of the NDC but are representative of a wide cross-section of the Grenadian people who have expressed disquiet and consternation.
In the premises and having regard to all of the foregoing, we respectfully urge that you:
(1). revisit your decision to dismiss these Registration Officers;
(2). recall the letters of dismissal issued to them; and
(3). re-instate them to their original positions in the respective constituencies
Your Excellency, we have no doubt that should you do as we here request, you will, as Head of State, have quelled the disquiet, anxiety, fear and dismay that many Grenadians now feel.
The people of Grenada pray your swift consideration on the matters raised herein, having due regard to both the urgency and gravity of what has now become a deteriorating situation.
Please allow me to respectfully advise that given the weight of this matter and the public interest surrounding it, I shall be constrained to share the contents of this letter with the Grenadian public should no positive indication be received from you within the next five (5) days.
I remain respectfully,
V. Nazim Burke