Civil Society raises concerns over “free and fair” elections

Supervisor of Elections, Alex Phillip is under pressure to ensure that the March 13 general elections in Grenada are free and fair and that the will of the electorate prevails.

The Grouping of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have raised serious concerns about the poll especially what appears to be the unfair process of registration recorded on the sister islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

Some members of the Civil Society grouping at the press conference

CSO members told reporters at a press conference last Friday how dissatisfied they were after holding a meeting with the Supervisor of Elections seeking answers on the number of non-nationals that were registered particularly on the island of Petite Martinique.

According to CSOs, proper due diligence was not done by the Registration Officers to verify whether the non-nationals were in fact eligible to vote.

Society member, Sandra Ferguson said these registrations were made possible through Justices of the Peace but were clearly not verified by Registration Officers on the island.

“We understood that a number of persons who are not nationals were presenting themselves to be registered to participate in the general elections. Now from our point of view, we know that there are open borders and the Grenadines in fact are a unit. We don’t have a problem with the fact that there are open borders within the Grenadine Islands but certainly when it comes to the issue of presenting yourself for elections and to be registered there is a process that needs to be gone through and based on what we got there was some serious cause for concern,” she said.

She admitted that a Commonwealth Citizen, for which St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a member, is given the right to vote once the proper procedure is followed.

Ferguson stressed that no one is certain whether or not the resident requirements were met in relation to the cases in Carriacou and Petite Martinique because no checks were made.

“So, persons were turning up to vote, you had to bring your birth paper, another important piece of document would be your passport we understand, to verify your entry and the legality of the entry and residence”, she said.

“What we understand is that there was a number of Justices of the Peace who were sending these people with declarations saying that ‘I know this person’ that ‘they have been residing in Carriacou’ for such and such a time and what really concerned us was the fact that the verification process was not being done to find out whether in fact what were the other pieces of documents to support this declaration and also the right or the authority of the Justices of the Peace to make those declarations”, she added.

She went on: “Somebody who is a Justice of the Peace or says they are a Justice of the Peace, put a stamp and present it to the Supervisor of Elections or the Registration Office, Office of the Supervisor of Elections and it is accepted”.

Ferguson told reporters that the Supervisor of Elections revealed in the meeting that the office did not feel it was right to challenge a JP on information they would have provided to get these questionable persons registered.

“The Supervisor of Elections confirms for us that the JPs have the authority to do declaration and therefore if someone presented a declaration, the office did not think that he had the right to challenge that declaration.

“So, we enquired into that further with some legal and other expertise and also the law. The Supervisor of Elections as we know, most of us should know, is an independent constitutional office and the Supervisor takes instructions from no one and the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, the Registration Officers have a responsibility, have a duty to investigate further this declaration to verify that it is supported by appropriate documents.

According to Ferguson, this approach leaves the door open for persons living illegally on the island to be allowed to register to vote in general elections.

“…You may very well find someone residing illegally and if that someone is residing illegally then you cannot register such a person and we have had many reports, many concerns coming out from Carriacou, particularly in Petite Martinique about this,” she remarked.

Candidate for the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Tevin Andrew has been alluding to a particular JP in Petite Martinique who has been facilitating the registration of several questionable persons.

Convenor of the CSO grouping, Judy Williams pointed to a section of the People’s Representation Act which mandates Registration Officers to conduct a verification process in these situations.

“What the People’s Representation Act has said is that the Supervisor of Elections must take information, yes, from a reputable person like a JP or Notary Public to verify if the person for example produces a passport with information or when they arrived in the country. “(If) the passport is expired, you cannot take it from an expired document but a JP or a Notary Public could give the information to show they know this person is domicile in Grenada.

According to Williams, the act also mandates the Registration Officer to verify the information.

“What is troubling is what the Supervisor has shared with us is that once the person is registered and the Registration Officer is satisfied that the information provided by the JP or Notary Public can substantiate the person getting registered, once they are registered they are entitled to vote,” she said.

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