By Floyd French
(Basseterre, St. Kitts)- The immediate past president of the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Mr. Franklin Brand, said his organisation was “not happy” with the current electoral reform process. Mr. Brand’s statement was made at a press conference on Feb.26, a few days after he had written to the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Mr. Hesketh Benjamin, in order to voice the Chamber’s concerns over the current voter confirmation process.
“The electoral reform process has been a roller coaster type issue throughout my presidency,” said Mr. Brand.
Mr. Brand indicated that Government’s interference after the Consultative Committee had done its work created glitches en route to the completion of the process.
“Subsequent to that particular committee, we started running into little glitches along the way and it related to the fact that the Government took, what they called, an administrative decision to withhold the reports from the public at certain stages.
“The Chamber disagreed. We felt that the public had participated, I commended the Government for opening up the process to the general public and I felt it should continue, that they allow the public to take ownership of the process,” Mr. Brand said.
Mr. Brand also praised the work of Mr. Elvis Newton, who chaired the Consultative Committee of stakeholders in the electoral reform process.
Despite the many challenges on the way, Mr. Brand still committed his organisation to the reform process. The Chamber nominated Mr. Charles Brisbane to serve on the Advisory Committee for electoral reform.
Mr. Brand also said that the work of the Advisory Committee was prematurely cut short by the Government, which the Chamber objected.
“There was a premature closure of that committee and we wrote to Government saying we have issues with that because we felt that the work of the Advisory Committee was not yet done.
“We had a difference of opinion and the Government proceeded nonetheless and the Chamber was basically advising Government not to do so,” stated Mr. Brand.
The organisation recommended that the Commonwealth Secretariat perform a greater role and the Boundaries Technical Committee be given a more permanent role in the electoral reform process. Mr. Brand expressed dissatisfaction that the Chamber’s recommendations have gone unheeded.
“They have proceeded onward, gone to parliament and again the Chamber engaged Government on that bit of legislation,” said Mr. Brand.
President Brand said that the Chamber held a general meeting to discuss issues of electoral reform. Two lawyers, Mr. Charles Wilkins and Mr. Emile Ferdinand, presented a paper giving advice on regulations to govern electoral reform. The document was endorsed by Chamber members, with some modification, and forwarded to the Government. Mr. Brand said the Chamber had not received any response to that document and they have not seen the new regulations which govern the confirmation process currently underway.
“We gave a blueprint as how this process could be foolproof and fair and Government took it. We have not had any response from them, they have not seen it fit to reply to that.
“However, we have not yet received the regulations from them as they have drafted them and we are in the dark as to that process,” said Mr. Brand.
The Chamber objects to overseas voter confirmation in embassies and missions. Its position is that nationals living abroad should be confirmed in the Federation.
In the letter to the Electoral Commission Chairman, Mr. Hesketh Benjamin, the Chamber seeks to clarify is on the confirmation process that Mr. Brand mentioned. The letter asks that Mr. Benjamin state publicly whether the Electoral Commission is in fact supervising the Supervisor of Elections in the confirmation process and whether the Commission is satisfied with the process.
The Chamber president stressed the non-partisan nature of the Chamber and affirmed its right to dialogue on social and political matters. Mr. Brand said that those aspects of involvement are necessary to create an environment conducive for economic and business activities. Mr. Brand feels that the consequences of the current confirmation process are for the electorate to decide.