The newly launched Integrity Commission of Justice Monica Joseph should be given responsibility to oversee campaign funding for general elections in Grenada.
That’s the view of the group of Commonwealth Observers which came to Grenada for the February 19 general elections in which the opposition New National Party (NNP) of Dr. Keith Mitchell soundly defeated the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Tillman Thomas by capturing all fifteen seats.
The issue of campaign finance has been on the national agenda for the past three elections on the island but no legislation has been put in place by Parliament to address the concerns.
Fears have been expressed in some quarters that questionable funds from money launders and drug barons could be used to influence the electoral process in small island states like Grenada and the rest of the Eastern Caribbean.
The New National Party (NNP) is known to have spent lavishly on winning elections especially in 1999 and 2013.
Speculation is rife that the NNP was heavily bankrolled in its 15-0 clean sweep at the polls in 1999 by funds provided by the controversial First International Bank of Grenada (FIBG) whose operators were later arrested and jailed in the United States for fraud.
In its report on the outcome of the polls held almost one year ago, the Commonwealth Observers noted that there is broad-base support in Grenada for campaign financing rules and regulations to be put in place.
Following is the full text of the report from the Commonwealth Observers on the February 19, 2013 general elections held in the Spice Isle:
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Commonwealth was afforded unfettered access to information, key interlocutors and official support to independently and objectively observe the 2013 election.
The main conclusions we have reached after setting out the political background, the election campaign and our observations of the poll and count are as follows:
*The voters register was satisfactory despite fears expressed to the Team by some stakeholders.
*The atmosphere leading up to the election was peaceful with no violence reported.
Conduct of the Poll
*The voters turned out in large numbers, recording an 87.72% voter turnout.
*The polling stations opened and closed on time
*The election material was available and sufficient in number in all the polling stations.
*The voters were treated with courtesy by the polling officials
*Security at polling stations was adequate and the police were helpful
*The layout of the polling stations with regard to voting and counting was good and the procedures adopted by the polling officials were open and transparent
*Arrangements had been made for voters with disabilities although some polling stations need to improve in terms of access to wheelchair bound people.
*A very small number of people were turned away from polling stations, as their names did not appear on the register.
*Party agents did their work with diligence and contributed to a well-run election.
*The polling and counting procedures were adhered to and transparent
*The Supervisor of Election and her staff conducted the election in a professional and competent manner.
*The conditions existed for a free expression of the will of the people of Grenada
*The voters were able to express the vote freely.
*The results of the election reflected the wishes of the people of Grenada.
*The results were publicly announced in a transparent manner instilling confidence in the transparency of the poll.
*The main opposition party, the NNP won 58.75% of the votes cast, and the ruling party, the NDC, 40.64% of the votes cast.
*It is significant to note that with 40% of the votes cast, the ruling party finds itself with no seats in the House of Representative.
*The smooth transition of power after the election is testimony to the growing maturity and tolerance of the people of Grenada.
Constitutional Reform – Electoral Commission
*There is a broad consensus amongst stakeholders for constitutional reform in the country.
*The Team recommends that the Commonwealth Secretariat be responsive to any specific requests from the authorities in Grenada for support in the field of good governance and the strengthening of democracy in the country that reflects national consensus and are consistent with Commonwealth values and principles.
*The Team trusts that action will be taken by the newly elected Prime Minister to use this unique opportunity to reach out to those who voted against his party and who find themselves with no elected members in the House of Representatives. There should also be meaningful efforts to engage in dialogue which would unite rather than divide the nation.
*The Team is of the view that the current electoral system (First-Past-The-Post) has produced results which appear to be disproportionate to the share of vote obtained by the two majors parties, thereby creating a perception of inequality and political exclusion.
*The authorities may wish to give consideration to some proportionality being introduced into the system to correct the inordinate imbalances created by First-Past-The-Post.
*The Terms of Reference of the Constitutional Reform Commission should include the mode and mechanism for the appointment of the Supervisor of Elections and the Boundaries Commission.
*It is recommended that the Parliamentary Elections Office be upgraded to an Electoral Commission and the appropriate constitutional and legislative arrangements be enacted ensuring independence in operations and funding. A balanced, less politically charged means should be arrived at reflecting the needs of Grenada to staff the commission, therein allowing its independent operation.
*The Parliamentary Elections Office should stipulate, in correspondence to political parties upon application for the use of a symbol, that the symbol could only appear on the ballot paper after receiving Parliamentary. Applications for symbols should be expeditiously processed.
Secrecy of the ballot
*Greater care should be exercised in ensuring that presiding officers uniformly interpret and apply procedures for the casting of the ballot for vision-impaired persons.
Review of electoral boundaries
*It was observed that there is a wide variation in the number of electors in respects of some constituencies, which clearly goes against the basic principles of boundary delimitation.
*A fresh delimitation of the boundaries appears necessary and desirable and a newly constituted Boundaries Commission should address this issue.
Continuous updating of the Voter List
*The register of electors should be more meticulously updated at regular intervals (currently every 3 months) and there should be removal of deceased persons from the lists, and name changes reflected.
Campaign finance legislation
*There is broad based support for and the recognition of the need for campaign financing rules and regulations, including, but not limited to, the disclosure donations.
There appears a preference for a holistic regional wide approach to the topic, which the Commonwealth Secretariat would be able to coordinate and guide by providing the necessary technical support and workshops.
*Parliament should engage the public in an education drive and debate receiving the comments from the public, and especially Opposition parties, civil society and other non-State, on the proposal for the introduction of legislation that would govern campaign finance and the disclosure of funding.
*Legislation should be proposed that ensure transparency, accountability and reporting of party incomes and expenses.
*Banning of all foreign (non-Grenadian) contributions to political parties for any purpose.
*The strengthening and continuous operation of the Integrity Commission allowing for the strengthening of auditing and reporting mechanism surrounding an election.
*Empower the Integrity Commission to oversee campaign financing.
Local observers groups strengthened
*Formalising and strengthening the role of civil society and training of local observer groups should be considered a priority that the Commonwealth is also well suited to provide.
*Media Broadcasting Authority/Commission to look into the possibility of allocation free airtime to political parties.
*The media may well benefit from the establishment of a code of conduct on political reporting.
Code of political conduct
*Political Parties to familiarise themselves with voluntary codes of conduct for political campaigning and consensus to be reached by all parties well before the next election
*Mechanisms to increase women’s participation in election and representation in Parliament.
Role of women in electoral process
*While the number of female candidates and winning Member of Parliament in the 2013 General Elections was the largest in Grenada’s electoral history, this was relatively low in stark contrast to the commendably large numbers of women who served as polling staff and party agents
*It is recommended that measures be considered by Parliament to overcome evident barriers and to encourage greater participant by women in the electoral process.