Grenada’s main opposition political party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) is taking its fight with the ruling New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell on the regional and international level.
The party’s political leader former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke has written to Ambassador José Miguel Insulza Salinas, Secretary-General of the hemispheric body, the Organisation of American States (OAS) to complaint about alleged violation of the island’s constitution by the 15-month old administration in St. George’s.
Burke expressed concerns about the recent decision by government to issue directives to the electoral Office which has been the beneficiary of assistance from the OAS to help improve the electoral process on the island.
The Congress leader made specific reference to a Cabinet Directive, which NDC sees as interference with the independence of the Electoral Office.
This related to a letter sent by Permanent Secretary, Lana Mc Phail to then Supervisor of Elections, Judy Benoit informing her that Cabinet had taken a decision to install internet service at the Elections Office to be linked up with the Office of the Prime Minister as part of a regional initiative.
Benoit, who resisted the move on the grounds that the directive could compromise the independence of the Electoral Office was quickly fired from the post by Governor-General, Dame Cecile La Grenade.
Within months of taking over from Benoit, her replacement, Aaron Francois, the Permanent Secretary in Health, tendered his resignation against the backdrop of a transfer of an employee from the office allegedly without any consultation with him.
As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduces the letter that was sent by Congress leader Burke to the OAS Secretary-General Insulza Salinas:
His Excellency José Miguel Insulza Salinas
Organization of American States (OAS)
17th Street and Constitution Ave NW,
Washington, DC 20006-4499
United States of America
Monday, 26 May 2014
VIA REGULAR MAIL AND E-MAIL TO:firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: State Sponsored Attack on Democracy and Democratic Institutions in Grenada
I write to you in my capacity as Political Leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the main opposition party in Grenada (which secured 41 percent of the popular vote in the last general elections), to bring to your attention some recent developments taking place in our country that threaten the very heart of our democratic system and to solicit your assistance in ensuring that our democracy and democratic institutions are protected and preserved.
Since being elected in February 2013, the New National Party (NNP) Government of Grenada, led by Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell, has embarked on a course of conduct that has many citizens deeply troubled. Several actions and utterances by the Government and by persons closely connected with Government demonstrate that democracy and democratic institutions in Grenada are under serious threat, indeed under attack.
These attacks on the Grenada Constitution, laws, protocols and customs do not accord with the governance and accountability agenda advocated by the NNP while in opposition and during the election campaign.
Your Excellency, your organization has always been a friend of Grenada. Over the years, you have contributed significantly, not only to Grenada’s economic and social development but substantially to the advancement and maintenance of our democracy and democratic institutions. For this reason, we consider it imperative that we bring to your attention some of the matters of concern to the NDC and indeed the wider populace.
Among the matters of concern, which the NDC regards as attacks on and threats to democracy in Grenada are the following:
The calculated interference by the Cabinet of Ministers with the operations of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, notwithstanding the constitutional protection afforded that office by section 35 of the Grenada Constitution and the provisions of the Representation of the People Act (hereafter “the Act”), thereby compromising or potentially compromising the independence and integrity of the electoral system and process in Grenada;
The appointment of Hon. Gregory Bowen1 a Civil Engineer by profession, with absolutely no legal training or expertise, to act as Attorney General of Grenada on two separate occasions in flagrant violation of section 70 of the Constitution of Grenada;
The passage and then repeal (under regional and international pressure) of sections 6, 16, and 25 of an Electronic Crimes Act, which re-enacted the anachronistic offence of criminal libel and infringed the Constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of conscience and of expression;
The passage in the House of Representatives of an amendment to the Interception of Communications Act so as to empower the state to intercept private communication where it has reason to believe that such interception may be necessary “for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the state”, without defining what the “economic well-being of the state” means or involves (this proposed amendment was finally defeated in the Senate); and
The amendment of the Terrorism Act so as to empower the Attorney General of Grenada, a public officer answerable to the Cabinet of Ministers to designate any person in Grenada a “terrorist” and any organization in Grenada a “terrorist organization”, without reference to internationally established and accepted criteria for so doing, thereby exposing political opponents of the regime to the threats of political intimidation and victimization.
The Authorities in Grenada have chosen this course of action notwithstanding the Oaths of Office taken upon occupying their respective offices, in accordance with Schedule 3 to the Constitution, to the effect that “in the execution of the functions of such office [they] will honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution of Grenada. So help me God”.
The NDC considers that these attacks will, if ignored, ultimately lead to a breakdown of peace, order and good governance in Grenada and feels compelled to bring same to the attention of the international community with a view to securing their timely intervention, as they deem fitting and appropriate in the circumstances.
In this letter, I address in particular, the calculated interference by the Cabinet of Ministers with the operations of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections and advise as follows:
Interference with the Electoral Office
Section 35 (1) of the Constitution of Grenada provides that there shall be a Supervisor of Elections whose duty will be to supervise over the registration of voters and the conduct of general elections in Grenada. Section 35 (2) of the Constitution provides for the Governor General, acting in his “own deliberate judgment”, to appoint the Supervisor of Elections.
Section 35(6) of the Constitution provides that in the exercise of his functions, the Supervisor of Elections shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority. Section 35(5) of the Constitution gives the Supervisor an absolute discretion to report to the House of Representatives whenever he considers it necessary or expedient.
Sections 28 & 29 and sections 30 & 31 of the Representation of the People Act collectively provide for the Governor General, acting in his own deliberate judgment, and the Supervisor of Elections, respectively, to appoint all administrative and support staff to the Parliamentary Elections Office and its sub-offices throughout Grenada.
The existing Constitutional and legislative framework therefore contemplates that the Supervisor of Elections and his office must remain absolutely independent and insulated from the control or influence of the different arms of Government, especially the Executive.
As you would be aware, in 2011, Grenada finally responded to the recommendations of the Organization of American States, made in 1999, 2003 and again in 2008 to introduce an improved Voter Registration System. The Office of the Supervisor of Elections, with the full backing of the NDC led Government, made a substantial investment in both financial and human terms to introduce a new System ahead of the General Elections scheduled for 2013.
The reforms introduced by the Supervisor included the introduction of biometric identification cards and an electronic voter database so as to improve voter security. To give legal effect to these initiatives, the Parliament of Grenada in 2011, amended the Representation of the Peoples Act, so as to provide for the establishment of a permanent, centralized and computerized Voter Registration System and establishment a more stringent identification requirement. In addition, the legislative amendments provided for checks and balances in terms of voters list data, guaranteeing parties and citizens sufficient oversight over the registration process.
By letter dated January 8th 2013, the Honourable Tillman Thomas, then Prime Minister of Grenada wrote to the Secretary General of the OAS to request “urgent assistance of the OAS in providing technical support to evaluate and verify the integrity of the new voter registration system.” The said letter requested the independent evaluation and verification of the new system by an international body to ensure that the upcoming elections, to be held in February 2013 were conducted in a clean, free, fair and transparent manner.”
This request for assistance was promptly and generously answered by your Excellency and an OAS Technical Team commenced work in Grenada on January 21st 2013. On February 7th 2013, the OAS issued its Report on the Assessment and Evaluation of the New Voters’ Registration System in Grenada. In the said report, the OAS concluded, inter alia, that:
Its verification of the electoral database indicated strong levels of accuracy and reliability;
The house to house survey on voter registration attested to the integrity of the voter registration database;
Grenada had significantly improved the legal framework governing the voter registration process;
The voter registration system in Grenada is generally robust; and
Grenadian authorities deserve recognition for implementing a new system, which constitutes real progress for the organization of clean and inclusive elections in the country2.
General elections were held on February 19th 2013, with independent observers, including an OAS observer mission in attendance. The independent observers, particularly the OAS observer team, commended the Supervisor of Elections and her staff for their professional and efficient execution of the February 19th 2013 General Elections3.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, by letter dated August 28th 2013, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry responsible for inter alia Communications and Information Communication Technology (ICT), wrote the Supervisor of Elections informing her that the Cabinet had, at its meeting of July 28th 2013, “approved several Parliamentary Elections Offices for the registration of those offices into the MPID System” ( a new and different voter registration and card issuance system of which the Supervisor had no knowledge).
The said letter from the Permanent Secretary further advised the Supervisor of Elections that Cabinet also “directed that the staff of the Electoral Office work with the MPID System for registration and issuance of Voter Registration Cards”. The Permanent Secretary advised further, that Cabinet had “authorised the installation of internet services on all sites” and that the Ministry had already “instructed LIME, the internet service provider, to undertake the installation as a matter of urgency”4.
By Memorandum dated August 30th 2013, the Supervisor of Elections responded to the Permanent Secretary pointing out her concerns that the proposed system changes to the Parliamentary Elections offices may be premature and may constitute a breach of the existing legislation. The Supervisor of Elections was careful to point out that her reservations were not a matter of resistance but a commitment to the independence of the institution and adherence to the legislative framework5.
The IT changes “approved” by the Cabinet will effectively place the Electoral Office and its sub-offices on a shared network with other Government Ministries, Departments and Offices. The server for this shared network is housed at the Prime Minister’ Ministry.
The Supervisor of Elections received no response to her memorandum.
By latter dated September 30 2013, the Governor General summarily dismissed the Supervisor of Elections, effective October 1st 20136.
The Supervisor of Elections has since commenced legal action against the Governor General of Grenada seeking judicial review of the decision of the Governor General to dismiss her in the manner she was dismissed and a Declaration that the said dismissal was in all the circumstances unreasonable, irrational, procedurally improper and in breach of the principles of natural justice.
In the said action, the Supervisor of Election also seeks Declarations that the decisions and actions of the Cabinet of Ministers in relation to this matter were ultra vires the Constitution of Grenada. A copy of the Notice of Application filed along with the Affidavit of the Supervisor of Elections, Judy Benoit, sworn to on November 13, 2013 and filed in support of her Application is attached hereto7.
On September 30th, 2013, the same day on which the Supervisor of Elections was dismissed, Mr. Aaron Francois was appointed to act as Supervisor of Elections. It should be pointed out here that by virtue of Section 35 of the Constitution of Grenada (already referred to) there must be a public officer holding the Office of Supervisor of Elections or Acting Supervisor of Elections at all times and the said office ought not to be left vacant at any time.
Sometime during the month of March 2014, Mr. Francois learnt that Mr. Rupert Mc Burnie, the IT Systems Administrator in the Electoral Office will be removed from the office and reassigned ( I am not in a position to confirm the exact nature or circumstances of that communication).Mr. Francois was not consulted in that regard and had no input in the decision to reassign Mr. Mc Burnie.
Mr. Mc Burnie is the person most familiar with and qualified to operate the new Voter Identification Management System (VIMS), referenced at paragraph 126.96.36.199 of the OAS Report of the Assessment of the New Voter Registration System in Grenada. He was trained in Canada in the operation and use of the system by the Systems provider and designer of the operational software.
We are reliably informed that the then Acting Supervisor of Elections questioned the decision to remove Mr. Mc Burnie from the position, vigorously advancing the view that it would impair the operations of the office if Mr. Mc Burnie were removed from the office at that time. Notwithstanding, his pleas in that regard were ignored.
On April 1st 2014, Mr. Mc Burnie, was removed as IT Systems Administrator from the Office of the Supervisor of Elections. On the same day, Mr Francois tendered his resignation from the post of Acting Supervisor of Elections “for personal and professional reasons”.
On that same day, ( April 1st) Mr. Mc Burnie was replaced by a Mr. Paul Michael Millett, who is not known to have any knowledge of, prior working experience with or expertise in relation to the Voter Registration System presently in operation and use at the Office of the Supervisor of Elections.
Notwithstanding the Constitutional requirement that there shall be a Supervisor of Elections (and as such, the Office cannot be left vacant), no Supervisor of Elections or Acting Supervisor of Elections has been appointed since Mr. Francois’ resignation. There has therefore been no one at the Electoral Office to whom the staff is institutionally answerable since April 1st 2014.
At this juncture, it is also not known to the Grenadian public and relevant stakeholders whether the Electoral Office has since been placed on the EGRIP (shared network) system in accordance with the stated commitment of the Cabinet of Ministers as conveyed in the letter of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry responsible for ICT as set out in paragraphs 10 and 11 above.
It is also not known whether the installation of internet services in the parliamentary elections offices directed by the Cabinet of Ministers have in fact taken place. Should this have occurred, this would, in principle, provide to the Prime Minister’s Ministry access to the database of the Office of the Supervisor of Elections and give to the ruling party and its candidates a distinct advantage in any future general elections.
It is not known what Mr. Millet is in fact doing at the Office and to whom he is reporting.
Notwithstanding the constitutional duty of the Governor General to appoint a Supervisor of Elections, she has failed or refused to do so and public calls for an appointment to be made have been flatly ignored. As a consequence, the Office has remained vacant since April 1st 2014.
The matters detailed above form the basis of a real and genuine concern that the integrity of the electoral system in Grenada is being, and will continue to be compromised unless the Authorities in Grenada are persuaded, as a matter of urgency, to depart from their current trajectory.
Given that the independence and integrity of the electoral system and process constitute the heart and soul of our democratic system, the NDC submits that this unlawful, calculated and unwarranted interference with that Office creates the real likelihood that any subsequent elections may well be a farce.
On behalf of the people of Grenada – in particular, the Grenadian electorate, opposition political parties, prospective political candidates and other stakeholders- we kindly request that you use your good offices to intervene in this situation so that the democracy and democratic system that we cherish could be protected and preserved.
Please be assured, Your Excellency, of our highest and most esteemed consideration.
V. Nazim Burke
National Democratic Congress