The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) is taking a cautious approach to the recent developments that have taken place within the Parliamentary Elections Office with the sudden dismissal of seven Registration Officers.
Party Leader Senator Nazim Burke believes that the dismissal of the Officers is a full-blown electoral crisis, stating that never before in the history of Grenada has something like this happened and that it is a very dangerous development.
Sen. Burke who appeared on a radio talk show programme said Congress has received confirmation that letters signed by the Governor General, Dame Cecile La Grenade were issued to seven of the 15 Registration Officers terminating their appointment with immediate effect.
He identified the affected Registration Officers as being Percival Burke of St. Andrew’s North East, Anthony Gentle of St. John’s, Leroy Charles from St. Patrick’s East, Ronald Simon from St. George South East, Lesliann James from St. Andrew’s North West, Denise Perrotte from St. Andrew’s South West, and Sherryann Thomas from St. Andrew’s South East.
Sen. Burke said information reaching Congress is that there may be other Registration Officers being contemplated for dismissal.
The Congress Leader is questioning whether or not the letter was written by the Governor General in her own deliberate judgment.
“The Governor General owes the nation an explanation for what has happened,” he said.
He recalled that following the November 2016 Referendum on the Grenada Constitution, the Government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell commended the work that was done by the Parliamentary Electoral Office.
“There was a 65.8 percent turn out who voted ‘no’ against the Bills, so they rejected them (the government) outright in 13 constituencies… We have looked at those numbers and it is clear that there was a massive rejection of Dr. Mitchell and the New National Party (NNP) in that referendum,” he said.
The Congress Leader stated that a recent poll paid for by the ruling NNP that was conducted by Cadres has revealed that he will lose the next general elections.
Sen. Burke told the host of the programme it is no secret that the country is now in an election year.
“What you’re seeing here… is that this has created a situation in which there is in effect a purge of the Electoral office,” he said.
The Congress Leader is concerned that the new group of Registration Officers may not be qualified to monitor the electoral process in their respective constituencies.
He explained that once the date for the general elections is announced, the Registration Officers become the Returning Officers who, under the law, are responsible for the conduct of the poll in each of the 15 constituencies.
“If we do not have the right people in those positions, if we do not have people who are of character, who are of integrity, who have the professionalism, who have the expertise, doing this kind of work there is always a danger that these persons, especially if they are untrained, inexperienced and timid in character, there is always the danger that these persons can be bullied into what they may not want to engage in otherwise,” he told the programme host.
The NDC leader labeled the widespread firing of the Returning Officers by Dame Cecile as showing an act of desperation by the authorities and that this latest action is the beginning of attempts by the Keith Mitchell Administration to manipulate the electoral process.
“What we are witnessing here is a continuation of a creeping dictatorship, a major assault on our democracy,” he said.
Sen. Burke has called for a united approach of the entire country in condemning the current situation facing the Parliamentary Elections Office.
Amidst, the dismissal of the seven Registration Officers, Deputy Supervisor of Elections, Ada Holder has tendered her resignation.
Meanwhile, Minister of Health, Nickolas Steele has defended the action taken by the Governor General to dismiss seven of the 15 Registration Officers.
Minister Steele told Tuesday post-Cabinet press briefing his government enquired into the matter and was given some of the reasons for the dismissal of the Registration Officers.
He said one of the reasons advanced is the age of certain individuals and the fact that some of them no longer reside in the constituency for which they were the Registration Officer.
Of the current NNP elected Members of Parliament, three of the 15 do not live in their constituencies – Anthony Boatswain (St. Patrick West), Gregory Bowen (St. George South-east), and Minister Steele himself (Town of St. George).
Minister Steele dismissed claims in some quarters that the dismissal of the Registration Officers was politically motivated.
“Based on the enquiries received from the Governor General’s Office, (we) received enough information that satisfies us that there isn’t any political interference,” he said.
He told reporters: “The Governor General acted in her own deliberate judgment. She has the mandate to do so, it’s not at the request or consultation, she does not have to consult, did not with anybody. That is her right, that is the powers given to her.”
“It is not my place, nor this government’s place to question the Governor General acting in her own deliberate right,” he added.
According to Minister Steele, the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration of Prime Minister Mitchell respects the Governor General’s decision as given to her under the Constitution to act in her own deliberate judgment.
This, he said is why the NNP Administration felt this aspect of the GG’s powers as contained in one of the seven Bills should have been supported across the board on referendum day.
The electorate rejected all the bills in the referendum, which many observers viewed as a protest vote against the policies of the Mitchell-led government since its landslide 15-0 victory at the polls in 2013.