Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has expressed disappointment in the delay of the final proposal from Sir Dennis Byron to modernize Dominica’s electoral system.
Sir Byron was tasked by the Government of Dominica to be the sole commissioner to advance efforts towards electoral reform in Dominica.
“In respect to Electoral Reform I wish to assure you that we remain committed to the passage of the necessary legislation in Parliament to modernize Dominica’s electoral system,” Prime Minister Skerrit said during a press briefing held recently. “I will say to you that I am very disappointed that as of April 21, 2023, I have not received the final set of proposals to advance to the public and ultimately the Parliament of Dominica.”
He said however, this is by no means a criticism of the efforts of Sir Dennis Byron, “but more of a commentary on challenges besetting us in a Post-Covid environment and the backdrop of the tremendous consultations and research that go into the preparation of the needed report on subsequent recommendations.”
The Prime Minister shares the general view that this is a matter that must be addressed with urgency.
And according to him, upon the receipt of the report, the necessary consultations will be conducted in an expedited manner as much as possible with the objective of implementing the recommendations to the satisfaction of the Dominican populace.
“As a matter of fact I took the opportunity on the margin of the recent symposium in Trinidad to update CARICOM Heads on our efforts with regard modernization of the electoral process and also seeking the further involvement of the CARICOM Secretariat in the effort of advancing the Electoral Reform process in Dominica,” he stated.
He added, “Ideally I really want to see this thing done with and set aside and we focus our energies on our resources, on other equally important issues confronting the Dominican population.”
The Prime Minister hopes that “very soon” his government shall receive the final set of recommendations and present it to the Dominican population for consultation.
In the letter dated November 6, 2022, Sir Byron – a former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, former Chief Justice of the OECS Supreme Court, and Privy Councilor, who was appointed by the government to investigate and advise on the issue of electoral reform- revealed to the former leader of the United Workers Party (UWP), Lennox Linton that he will be presenting his long-awaited report in two phases.
“Phase I will deal with the Registration of Electors and Phase II with the Election Process. I am in the final stage of the Phase I report,” he said in the letter copied to Mr. Duncan Stowe, Chairman of the Electoral Commission.
In the said letter, Byron acknowledged that his engagement “carries the expectation of bridging the sharp divisions of opinion that have handicapped the completion of this reform exercise.”
Against this background, he declared that legislative support is required to give effect to the recommended reforms, noting that the existing legislation is “quite old, and it has been a flashpoint for political disagreement and community dissatisfaction.”
Sir Byron also highlights in the letter that consultation took longer than anticipated as it was characterized by robust discussion and even resulted in several modifications to drafts of the proposed legislative instruments.
He went on to point out that the draft legislation which was presented to Linton has the consensus of the Commission.
As such the Caribbean jurist noted, “I will present Phase I report during the month of November 2022. Parliament tables the Register of Elector’s legislation in December 2022 with the plan to enact it in January 2023, so that the Register of Electors could be compiled in accordance with the recommendations during that calendar year.”
He noted further, “I will present Phase II of the Report, after a consultation process similar to that undertaken for Phase I in February/ March 2023. Parliament tables and enacts the Phase II legislation in March/ April 2023.”
Byron, who spoke to state-owned Radio DBS last year, revealed that the process has been taking longer than he had anticipated and would not be ready in 2021, as initially promised, and instead gave a new target date of January 2022.
This present delay with the recommendation isn’t the first that the public has experienced since Skerrit broke the news of Sir Byron’s assignment at the swearing-in of his new cabinet in December 2019.
The process, which was originally due to commence in March 2020, finally got off the ground on February 1, 2021, with over 35 organisations, including political parties, recognized civic groups, and non-governmental organisations, invited to make written submissions by Thursday, February 11.
The Prime Minister had initially announced that Sir Dennis would visit Dominica in March 2020 on an “information-gathering exercise and once he comes into Dominica, he will be exposed to all the relevant stakeholders including the media.”
The onset of COVID-19, which led to the closure of borders, forced a change of plans, and the start of the process was rescheduled to September 1, 2020, with an end date in December of the same year. However, DNO was told that the eminent jurist refused to begin unless the Electoral Commission was properly constituted.
The original plan called for a series of town hall meetings with the public, but with COVID-19 many of the consultations and citizens’ surveys on electoral reform were held virtually.