It is the eve of a by-election in Grand Bay occasioned by the death the late MP Ed Registe and as the election draws ever nearer, it appears that calls for an investigation into the eligibility of the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) candidate will go unheeded.
In the course of two weeks, Chairman of Dominica’s Electoral Commission, Duncan Stowe has been written to by a political party, a civic organisation and private citizens who have all expressed similar concerns over the nomination of Dr. Vince Henderson.
Opposition Leader, Lennox Linton, wrote to Stowe on November 12, 2021 insisting that Henderson appeared to be in breach of the qualifying criteria for contesting an election for membership in the House of Assembly since, as of nomination day, November 9, Dr Henderson had not been recalled, nor had he resigned from his position as Ambassador of the Commonwealth of Dominica to the United States of America (USA) and the Organization of American States (OAS), positions which he has held since 2016.
The Opposition Leader posited that such a position of emolument in service to the State disqualified the DLP nominee as a contender in the race.
“It falls to the Electoral Commission, the Constitutionally appointed authority with responsibility for the conduct of free and fair elections with integrity, to ensure that Mr. Henderson is barred from contesting the Grand Bay by-election in which he is not qualified to participate by operation of law,” Linton’s letter stated.
Linton further alleged that despite the absence of any such public announcement of resignation of Dr Henderson from his ambassadorial post, he executed the requisite statutory declaration of qualification for election to the House of Assembly in breach of the qualifying criteria for such election provided in Dominica’s Constitution and electoral laws.
“Additionally, Mr. Henderson appears to have made a false or untrue declaration in the nomination process for which he may be criminally liable under the Statutory Declarations Act Chapter 5:53,” Linton argued.
He urged the Chairman to carry out a swift investigation with consideration to items 2, 5 and 8 on the Form 13 of House of Assembly (Elections) Act Ch 2:01 – Statutory Declaration of a Person Nominated as a Candidate for Election as a Member of the House of Assembly.
In a letter dated November 22, 2021, four Dominican citizens further appealed to the Electoral Commission Chairman to launch an investigation of all candidates in the by-election.
Dr. Irving Pascal, Judith Pestaina, Artherton Martin and Loftus Durand, in their joint letter to Stowe, said they are concerned about what appeared to be a violation of some of the laws and regulations as it pertains to the proper registration of candidates for participation in the upcoming Grand Bay by-election.
“Consequently, we want the Commission to confirm that all three nominees now listed as Electoral Candidates in the upcoming by By-Election have been properly registered according to the law,” they requested.
“We are concerned that at least one of the nominees, Ambassador Vince Henderson, may have in fact reported inaccurately, his current status on his statutory declaration. It is a fact that the Ambassador is currently a person “in service to the State” which would automatically disqualify him. We emphasize here that this matter requires further and urgent investigation,” the group stated.
They insisted that their request was not “frivolous” because according to them, they were in possession of evidence from the OAS which supported claims that Dr. Henderson is still serving as the Permanent Representative in “service to the State” contrary to his statement on his signed Declaration as an Electoral Candidate.
“In addition, we will be exercising all rights as private citizens to request the Courts in Dominica to enforce this request for an investigation into the possibility of a false Declaration signed in the presence of the Commission.”
Their plea for a response to their letter from the Chairman via email no later than 12.noon on November 23, in light of the established date of the election, went unheeded.
Meanwhile, the National Joint Action Movement (NJAM) believes that the conduct of the Dominica Electoral Commission in abdicating its responsibilities of investigating an alleged violation of the Statutory Declaration by the DLP candidate must be condemned by all Dominicans.
In a statement to the media, the movement said since the Electoral Commission is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the electoral process in Dominica is always free and fair, any complaint brought before the Commission must be investigated to avoid any contamination of the electoral process.
“Having had numerous complaints presented to the Electoral Commission reference the allegations of a false declaration made by Ambassador Vince Henderson, a Candidate nominated to contest the Grand Bay Bye-election, NJAM states categorically, that the Electoral Commission has the legal and constitutional responsibility to immediately intervene in the matter before the said Bye-election is held,” the group stated in its release.
NJAM averred that failure to do so “must result in immediate Court action to force the Commission to execute its moral and legal responsibilities.”
DNO has since been informed by reliable sources that a vote was recently held by the Electoral Commission with regard to the complaints filed against Dr. Henderson’s candidacy and two of the commissioners were in support of his removal while three voted against.
On several occasions, DNO reached out to Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Duncan Stowe for comment, but failed to get an interview with him.
Form 13 (line 5) of the House of Assembly (Elections) Act Ch 2:01 which forms part of the basis of the challenges to Dr. Henderson’s candidacy, is posted below.
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY (ELECTIONS) ACT (CH. 2:01)
STATUTORY DECLARATION OF A PERSON NOMINATED AS A CANDIDATE FOR ELECTION AS A MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Qualification of ___________________ of _____________________ in the _________________ of ___________________ nominated as a candidate for the election as a member of the House of Assembly for the ___________ constituency. I, ___________________ of _______________ in the _________________ of do solemnly and sincerely declare as follows: That I am duly qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Assembly for this constituency and that-
1. I am a citizen of Dominica of the age of eighteen years* over the age of eighteen years.*
2. I have resided in the State for a period of twelve months immediately before the date of my nomination for election.
* I am domiciled in the State and was resident therein at the date of my nomination for election.
3. I am able to speak and read the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable me to take an active part in the proceedings of the House of Assembly.
* I am able to speak the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable me to take an active part in the proceedings of the House of Assembly, but am incapable on account of __________________ of reading it.
4. I am not, by virtue of my own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign Power or State.
5. I do not hold nor am I acting in any office or emolument in the service of the State.
6. I am not a minister of religion.
7. I am not an undischarged bankrupt under any law in force in any part of the Commonwealth.
8. I am not a party to or a partner in any firm or a director or manager of any company which is a part to any contract with the State for or on account of the public service. * I am a party to */a partner in a firm */a director of a company */a manager of a company */which is party to a contract with the State for or on account of the public service and have published in the English language in the Gazette and in a newspaper circulating in the constituency a notice setting out the nature of such a contract and *my interest, *the interest of my firm *company therein.
9. I am not a person adjudged to be of unsound mind nor detained as a person found guilty but insane of a criminal offence under any law in force in the State.
10. I have not been sentenced by a Court in any part of the Commonwealth to death or to imprisonment (by whatever name called) for a term exceeding twelve months.
* I have been sentenced by a Court in _________ a part of the Commonwealth, to imprisonment for a term exceeding twelve months and have suffered the punishment to which I was sentenced.
* I have been sentenced by a Court in _________ a part of the Commonwealth, to death, and have suffered the punishment substituted therefore by competent authority.
* I have been sentenced by a Court in _________ a part of the Commonwealth, to imprisonment for a term exceeding twelve months and did not suffer the punishment to which I was sentenced, but have suffered the punishment substituted therefore by competent authority.
* I have been sentenced by a Court in _________ a part of the Commonwealth, to death
*to imprisonment for a term exceeding twelve months
*but was granted a free pardon.
11. I am not disqualified for membership of the House of Assembly by any law in force in the State relating to offences connected with elections.
I make this declaration conscientiously, believing the same to be true and according to the Statutory Declarations Act, Ch. 5:53 and I am aware that if there is any statement in this declaration which is false in fact which I know or believe to be false or do not believe to be true I am liable to fine and imprisonment. Declared before me this ____ day of _____________________, 19___. (Signed) _______________________.