HONOURABLE ASOT A. MICHAEL ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT ON THE REGISTRATION (AMENDMENT) REGULATIONS, 2013


 

 

TUESDAY, 24th SEPTEMBER, 2013

 

Thank you, Madame Speaker.

 

Madame Speaker, I listened too many in the Members of this Honourable House today, and this evening, and unlike my friend from the constituency of All Saints East and St. Luke, the Honourable Chester Hughes, Madame Speaker, I do not plan to play any politics with this most important piece of the peoples’ work that we are here to do this evening, Madame Speaker.

 

Because for indeed Madame Speaker, our very essence of democracy in this country, and what we have been accustomed to over generations and many years, Madame Speaker, is being eradicated and withered away, Madame Speaker.

 

Madame Speaker, as I have said I don’t plan to play politics, but I want to prove my case tonight that what we are doing here I would venture to even say that it is on the verge of illegality, in terms of the proclamation that is before us that was issued on September 10th, and gazetted.It was issued on September 9th, and then gazetted on the 10th, Madame Speaker.

 

Because you see Madame Speaker, this is a seminal moment in the history of this country, and we cannot afford, with such an important piece of legislation, to play petty politics and try to score cheap political mileage, and to attack members on this side of the House, because we are constructively, earnestly, and honestly concerned with what is going on in this country right now, as far as it relates to re-registration, and the upcoming general elections, that are due in Antigua and Barbuda, March 2014 or before.

 

Because you see Madame Speaker, this Honourable House has been convened today for the most part, almost exclusively, other than the bill that we passedthe Personal Income Tax Bill, to deal withadoptingthisresolution, and we must make sure that the adoption of this resolution, Madame Speaker, that we are seeking to do, in fact what it’s doing is amending the Second Schedule of the Representation of the People Act, the people out there must know what we are doing, pertaining to voter Re-registration Regulations, that will affect every single eligible voter across the length and breadth of Antigua and Barbuda.

 

Madame Speaker today is Tuesday, September 24, 2013. The so-called re-registration of voters for the March 2014 General Elections, Madame Speaker, was scheduled to begin yesterday, September 23, 2013. These amendments that we are seeking to do here tonight and today, Madame Speaker, to the Registration Regulations must first be adopted by Parliament in order for the so called re-registration exercise to commence.

 

But, Madame Speaker, since July 22, 2010, I want the people out there to understand this, 2010 or more than three years, the Electoral Commission, Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, Madame Speaker,they have been seized of these facts, and why…..?

 

My question tonight is why at this eleventh hour, did your coming to this Parliament, hauling us here, and seeking to pass these regulations at the eleventh hour.

 

Clearly in my view Madame Speaker,somebody either does not understand their job, their functions, or maybethey understand it, and they are not doing their job, Madame Speaker.

 

It cannot be ok for the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission to proceed to haul this parliament back into sitting when this House has been convened for no fewer than ten (10) to twelve (12) times since the law was amended.

 

More than thirty-six (36) months now have elapsed since these amendments came into effect, more than thirty-six (36) months, and up until this moment, Madame Speaker, up until now the Electoral Commission never moved to indicate that there had to be steps that had to be taken first, before we came back to this parliament.

 

I humbly suggest to you Madame Speaker, without casting any wrongful intent, any malicious aspersions on anyone’s character or personality, that that is unexceptional.  It is shameful, and it is a shameful display of someone’s inefficiency at work at the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission.

 

Madame Speaker, I have in hand, and I crave your indulgence, the proclamation issued by the Governor General on Monday the 9th day of September 2013, or two weeks ago.

 

It proclaims, and I read with your permission, Madame Speaker, it proclaims that onMonday September 23 to Friday October 25 as the periodwithin which the so-called re-registrationexercise is to take place. The proclamation was issuedby Her Excellency upon the advice of the Electoral Commission, as required by law. Yet, yet, Madame Speaker, and the Attorney General ought to know this Madame Speaker.

 

I’m no law student; no legal luminary, but, this proclamation that we have, that was issued and gazetted by extra ordinary authority, on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013, Madame Speaker, it fails to include the required reference to the specific date on which the Register, and my legal luminary, Member for St. John’s City South, made mention of it, and his is a hundred percent correct.

 

The Register must make reference to the specific date, Madame Speaker, on which the Register of Electors is to be published.I mean come on, it’s not here, and this fact was known to the Electoral Commission since 2012, Madame Speaker, because it is included in the same section of the same law, the Speech to Proclamation since 2012.Again, Madame Speaker, someone at the Electoral Commission is not doing their job.

 

And, I have in my hand here Madame Speaker, before I read from it, Madame Speaker, the failure to specify a date for the publication of the Register or Electors makes the Proclamation materially flawed, illegal, null and void, and it has to be re-done, and the Attorney General knows that.Several lawyers have examined the law and the documents, they have seen it.

 

And, I have in my hand here, and again with your permission, and I quote from the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010.  I will give you a copy later, number six (6) of 2010, well it is in the Parliament, and we passed it here. Number six (6), Madame Speaker, published in the Official Gazette, Volume thirty (30), number forty-one (41), dated the 22nd July, 2010.

 

And, if we look to the new section six (6), on page six (6)

 

Section 6: Amendment of section 18 – Requirement to register

 

And the new section 18, subsection 1 (a), Madame Speaker, it requires the proclamation of the registers dates, and I will read the exact wording, it says,

 

“Section one – On the coming into force of this section, the Governor General shall, by Proclamation, specify a period within which a person who is qualified under section 16 may apply in accordance with the Registration Regulations to be registered as an elector in the constituency in which he qualifies to be so registered.”

 

That was always so, even in the previous legislation.  What was amended Madame Speaker, is section (a), (b) and (c).  And here Madame Speaker, section 18 1 (a) says;

 

“In respect of the period immediately subsequent to the commencement of this section, the Commission shall publish the register not later than such date as the Governor General, after consultation with the Commission, shall by Proclamation specify; and then (b) goes on to say after the date specified by the Governor General by Proclamation under paragraph (a), at intervals of not more than six months, but not later than 30th June and 31st December in each year”.

 

There you have it Madame Speaker, clear as daylight.   How can we just make such a fundamental flaw, and come here, we have this Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2010, that this Government passed in 2010, we know that it must and requires us to definitely not just give the date and the start of registration, but you have to also put in the proclamation the date for the Register of Electors to be published. My goodness, how could we just miss that?

 

And, Madame Speaker, nearly two years ago, this Parliament was asked by amendment to create the position of Chief Registration Officer, which we did. I think it was law number ten (10); no sorry it was law number twelve (12) of 2012, Madame Speaker. It was passed with sweeping changes. May 2001, the Representation of the Peoples (Amendment) Act, 2010, the duties of the Chief Registration Officer that was outlined in that Act included“the preparation and maintenance of the Register of Electors.” And, that is her duty, that we came here to this parliament and we passed in law number twelve (12) of 2012.

 

It continued, that the Chief Registration Officer other duties, was to properly prepare the Register of Electors.   There were to bepreliminary lists published on April 30th, Madame Speaker, as mandated by the law, Madame Speaker. There were no preliminary lists on April 30th.  There were no lists orregisters created by June 30 2013. None!As required by the law!

 

I go one step further Madame Speaker, and this is not politics like my good friend the Honourable Member is trying to play.   This is reality, and this is the law. And, when the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Gaston Browne, Member of St. John’s City West, realized and his legal luminaries advised him, Madame Speaker, what he did was he wrote to the Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, about the absence of the Registers, and what he got, he got a rather nasty nasty reply was forthcoming to him.  He has them there. He will deal with that.

 

Madame Speaker, I go further, it is not just the date for the Registers that was eliminated out of the proclamation. Additionally, there was no order bringing Law No. 12 of 2011 into effect. No order and that has to be done.

 

The procedure requires an order of the Minister to bring the law into effect. Yet, there is a Proclamation and a Resolution before us but no Order preceding these two instruments.

 

The whole thing is wrong, completely wrong.  There must be an order, there must be a date.  The Minister must issue an order. And, I had three Queen Councils look at this; this is not Asot Michael trying to grand stand here.

 

There must be an order;there must be a date in a proclamation.  Someone at the Electoral Commission is not doing their job.

 

You know Madame Speaker, that the Chief Registration Officer was tasked with many functions and duties that bearexclusively to her and to that position on the registration of voters. And, those duties Madame Speaker, as we are all aware came after, because we have court cases, that Sir Gerald took, we have court cases that started today, that’s challenging that very amendment that we did to that legislation,were we stripped away,and emasculated the duties of the Supervisor of Elections, which was enshrined within the constitution.

 

And those responsibilities, Madame Speaker, those very responsibilities, that was enshrined and bestowed upon the Supervisor of Elections, were then handed over to the Chief Registration Officer.

 

So, the Supervisor of Elections was totally stripped and totally marginalized.And in fact Madame Speaker, truth be told, all those staff up there at the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, all of those staff was institutional memory, who could help to make the process flow seamlessly, and really productively, and get everything going properly. What has happened Madame Speaker, is that there are being shoved aside and marginalized.

 

And, then the Chief Registration Officer, herself, is failing in here duty.  Never before in the twelve years history of the Electoral Commission have we seen such a dereliction of duty. Clearly, the Electoral Commission is not ensuring the completion of the work assigned by this Parliament. And, then there bringing us back to this parliament, and letting us come here to make fools of ourselves.

 

Madame Speaker, I have also noted with some concern, in the Registration (Amendment) Regulations, that we are proposing, that nowhere in the rules or regulations, Madame Speaker, does the Registration Officer; the registration officer in every single constituency, there is no legal obligation on that Registration Officer to give the Scrutineer of both Political Parties, a copy of the list of persons that are registered daily.

 

Now, I don’t know if it was in the previous law, or if it was taken out, I would be a liar to say that I know, but, I know the practice has been that every single day my scrutineer would be handed by the Registration Officer, a set of persons, I think a pink or green slip, pink slips of those persons that have been registered.

 

But, if you look at section five (5) on page 5, Amendment of Regulations 13, it says;

 

“Regulation 13 of the principal Regulation is revoked and substituted by the following – three (3) says; the registration officer shall retain the original certificate and shall deliver the duplicate of the certificate to the applicant”.

 

That is good, but what about the Scrutineer?

 

We need to enshrine that Mr. Attorney General.

 

Anyway, the ultimate blame for non-performance, Mr. Attorney General, is not us here in Parliament. It has to lie somewhere.  Somebody up there has to take responsibility.  Not you, maybe not us, well the Chairman of the Commission, is the Chairman, and he has to ensure that the tasks that have been clearly mandated by Parliament under the law, thathe has to make sure that those tasks assigned to the officers, like the Chief Registration Officer, the Chief Data Officer, all the other Chiefs up there that they took away the function from the Supervisor of Elections, that they have to make sure that those duties are carried out.

 

I mean does the Commission not have a lawyer?  Of course the Commission has a lawyer, but in all likelihood the way things are ran up there, is that the lawyer will render his/her advice, the Chairman not bothering with her, he’s not going to take the advice, he will say “A foo me decision”, that has become the new modus operandi, in Antigua and Barbuda judging from recent events Madame Speaker.

 

Madame Speaker, I am humbly submitting to you and this Parliament tonight that the 2014 general elections cannot and should not, and will not be anything like the debacle of the 2009 general elections. The Antigua and Barbuda people do not wish that what we went through where you had persons who lined up in polling stations from five o’clock in the morning, even before they open at six, and was not able to vote until one o’clock in the afternoon.  And, no paper was there, no ink was there.  I mean it was a debacle.  We can’t repeat that.  We don’t want to be the laughing stock again of the Commonwealth of Nations, Madame Speaker.   We do not wish to be a laughing stock of the CARICOM or the Organization of American States, or all these International Institutions or any of the foreign media once again.  I mean Madame Speaker let us be real, I am not attacking anybody.  But, if the Chairman of the Electoral Commission cannot do his job, then let him tend his resignation.  Let somebody else more competent, and impartial, and has the interest of fair play and the country at heart.  And, who knows the law, or who would understand legal advice and take it.

 

The Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda, Madame Speaker, we ought not to be convened for the purpose of having Parliamentarians today tell the Chairman of the Electoral Commission that he has to perform several tasks which the law commands him to do. He ought to read the law, and if he can’t read the law, get someone to advise him.  I mean Madame Speaker, if he were not so busy harassing his staff up there, he would be focused in on the law and the procedures, and would know what the proclamation says, and know that there must be an order, and know that the proclamation must have a date.

 

Madame Speaker, I want to say to this parliament tonight that I am not imputing any improper motives. I want to give you a fact that you don’t know.  Madame Speaker, I want to say afact, and this is an irrefutable fact.  This afternoon, you talk about harassment, and that I am imputing improper motives.

 

This afternoon, a letter was handed to Miss Manwarren, the most experienced Registration Officer, up there at the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, transferring her out of the ABEC Headquarters; however, Madame Speaker, a court order exist which forbids her removal from that office. And, they still defied that court order.  What is going on in this country?Is it the Wild Wild West that we defy laws and court orders with impunity and get away with it?

 

That court order was also agreed-to by consent by the head of the Electoral Commission, by both parties. That kind of harassment was to end with the court order. At this last moment, on the eve of the start of the re-registration or de-registration, on Monday, this is what we are seeing happen on the eve, and you tell me that this is right, and that they are supposed to start re-registration Monday.

 

No, Madame Speaker, that cannot be right.  It is unacceptable.  This draft resolution and the accompanying Proclamation cannot go forward. We must repeal it.  The Governor General’s Proclamation has to be amended. It is not lawful to proclaim the dates, then start one week later, it has in here the dates, Madame Speaker, it says, and this is the proclamation by the Gazette, and it says the date starting from the 23rd day of September, to the 25th day of October, 2013.  And, how willy-nilly the Chairman of the Electoral Commission can say, that we’re going to reduce it by one week, and we’re going to just start on the 30th, and reduce registration period by one week.

 

I go on now, Madame Speaker to the new machines.  The new machines, Madame Speaker, and this is a very serious matter, can only register one elector every six minutes or 10 electors every hour. And, that is a fact Madame Speaker; if you go an speak to the staff up there, or to the ones that are being trained, just to take your picture Madame Speaker, your information, to look through your passport, and fill in the forms, will take more than one minute. So that is ten electors every hour, Madame Speaker, so in a 12 hour day, the maximum to be registered is 120 electors, if you have one machine. Registration in 23 working days—assuming Saturdays are included—would result in 2,760 electors getting registered in St. Peter. In the latest register of St. Peter, you have more than 3500 electors registered under continuous registration. How is it possible to register that many electors in 23 working days? How are we going to achieve that? The Proclamation of the Governor General has to be withdrawn and a new Proclamation issued, Madame Speaker.

 

I mean the Prime Minister can decide after the first list, after claims and objections, after the forty-five day period to call elections.  He can say to call elections December 31st, and then only those persons that got unto to the list in those 23 days, I want the people of this country to know that, would be entitled to vote.  How are we to register nearly sixty thousand people?  Is it not nearly fifty-three thousand people that registered the last time?  How are they going to accomplish the registration, if the Prime Minister has the prerogative to dissolve Parliament and call the elections at any time?  So, how are we supposed to register….and Mr. Leader you should write to the Commonwealth Observer, you should write to the OAS, you should write to every single Prime Minister in the CARICOM, to tell them what is going on in this country.

 

You can’t tell everybody go and get registered in twenty-three (23) days; you can have persons overseas, someone at school or university, someone sick, no registration on Saturdays, no registration on Sundays.  They must register between seven o’clock in the morning and seven o’clock in the evening, from Monday to Friday.

 

Madame Speaker, there is also a plan and I must be honest, as the Electoral Office has said, to put more than one registration unit or machine in the bigger constituencies. Even if that is so, the number of scrutineers, in those multiple machine units, must also be increased. Because, if they put two or three machines in the St. Mary’s North Constituency, yet you only have one scrutineer per shift, how will your scrutineer, if when they are registering persons on two or more machines do.  Will she have to run machine to the next?  And, you say this process is supposed to take less than six minutes.

 

Madame Speaker, yet, the Resolution we are proposing here tonight makes two Scrutineers the absolute maximum for each political party’s appointments. And, I am saying that is not enough.  What happens in the lunch hour?

 

I called Ms. Generis Robinson when she said that I had to send an additional scrutineer to be registered.  I asked her what were the hours, and she replied from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and then from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. some evenings they may go later than seven if they require. So what happens when the first scrutineer wants to take a lunch hour? What’s going to happen?  Will there be no scrutineer there?

 

She admitted that they have thought about that, and you can appoint a third scrutineer, and to send them for training, but, the political parties have to pay for that third scrutineer. That is what her answer was to me.   Thatthe political parties have to pay for that third scrutineerto accommodate our two scrutineers, so that one can go for a lunch hour.  What nonsense is that?

 

Madame Speaker, the inefficiencies cannot be built-into the law. That cannot work when you have two units present, even in a single geographic location, for instance in the larger constituencies. You are going to have to assign at least four scrutineers to the larger constituencies, such as St. George, Rural West, to any constituency that has over three thousand registered voters. You cannot get over three thousand five hundred persons registered – that is assuming that everyone is desirous of registering –it cannot happen.  This resolution does exactly that.

 

Madame Speaker, I want to put to you, that the start of the case today in the High Court, which challenges the unlawful and unconstitutional attempt to strip the Supervisor of Elections of her authorities and duties, but, maybe the timing with this sitting coincides.  I am not cynical or suspicious, but, maybe just so it coincides with the timing of this sitting, in order, Madame Speaker, to attempt to make null and void the anticipated declaration of the Court. That is not a new strategy by the Government, Madame Speaker. We have come here before Parliament, while court cases have been going on, and appeals, and passed laws to attempt to try, Madame Speaker, to void declarations of the court.

 

And. what we are seeing again this evening and again is a propensity in this country for unlawfulness. The plan to hold registration in a super center, which they were thinking of, and had it not been for the wise advice of both sides, since the Honourable Political Leader, Member for St. John’s City West, and the Member for All Saints East and St. Luke, who got up and really put forward their argument to the Chairman, who did not even care what they were saying at the time.  Absolute disdain and contempt he treated a member of the UPP, Political Leader.

 

And Madame Speaker that was crazy too, to try and pack sixty thousand voters down at one super centre, where the air conditioning does not even work.

 

Madame Speaker, I beg of you my colleagues on the other side that not because you’re in Government, to amend this resolution. Amend this Proclamation. Send it back and let us start again.

 

Because, if you are not going to send it back, you are going to have a lovely court case on Monday, Attorneys Guthrie and Astaphan are already here.

 

Madame Speaker, in all seriousness, in concluding, this cannot stand.  This Parliament cannot be made to look foolish, and to be embarrassed once again, by someone, and that is the point that I am trying to bring across, in whom the people and the citizens of this country ought to have faith in, Madame Speaker.

 

Madame Speaker, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission is supposed to inspire confidence, but, you know Madam Speaker, you know what the Chairman on Observer Radio, said on June the 23rd, and I crave your indulgence Madame Speaker, June 23rd, 2011.  Both on the radio and it was printed, in an interview with Colin Sampson, Mr. Juno Samuel says and I quote;

 

“He said, with the headline in the papers saying New Law Disenfranchise Commonwealth Citizens – “But as I understand it, once the new legislation comes into effect, it has umm, the old legislation which was enacted is no more the law, so ahh, it would seem to me, that ok this is the new legislation, and this is the new requirement you have to be here for seven years.  The list that we had before, that list is null and void, and if the list is null and void, then that list does not exist basically, so now we start again.  So you now come in. What’s your name? How long have been here? And you present your documents; to show me how long you have been here”.

 

“As you know the Commonwealth, if you’re here less than seven years (you’re not eligible) even if you are registered under the previous law, you now become de-registered, (well that is my understanding of it)”.

 

So, in other words Madame Speaker, he has told the whole Antigua and Barbuda, is that he doesn’t care whether you are here for thirteen years or whether or not you have a voter’s ID card, and you voted last elections. The law no longer exists, the requirement is now three years, and you are off the list.  And, that is the modus operandi, the intent, behind what we are doing with this re-registration.

 

And, they are trying to say that the list is padded.  How could we in Opposition in 2009 pad a list?

 

You control the Electoral Commission, you control the machinery, and we’re in Opposition, the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party, and we pad a list. And you all still win the election.

 

And now Madame Speaker, the intent behind this whole re-registration is to frustrate those ten thousand Commonwealth Nationals out there.  Why, because they feel that the Guyanese, and the Jamaicans, and the Santa Dominicans, and the Dominicans and the Montserratians, that they are not going to vote for them, Madame Speaker.

 

That cannot be right Madame Speaker.

 

You can’t put a whole country through the agony and frustration to get persons registered in twenty-three days.

 

How much millions of dollars it’s going to cost in man power and machinery.  I don’t know the figures, but I am sure it’s going to cost at least six to ten to twelve million dollars for this re-registration.  And to do what!

 

Because, you are fearful of losing the elections, paranoid, but I want to say to them Madame Speaker and I want to tell the people out there that they will not succeed.   I have confidence in our lawyers, because they have lost every single case for nine years, but they will not succeed.

 

The Prime Minister don’t listen to the Attorney General, he listens to a so called lawyer named Datadin.  Had he listened to the Attorney General he would have won more cases, Madame Speaker.

 

But, Madame Speaker, they will not succeed with the de-registration of the Commonwealth Citizens, as soon as they try that next week, we’re going to carry them to court.  The leader has already said so.

 

But, Madame Speaker, I want to submit to this Honourable House that even ifthey were to succeed in the de-registration, and take off 8,000, 9,000, 10,000 Commonwealth Citizens, the indigenous born and bred Antiguans and Barbudans, they will lose them, and have lost them, and they are not going to vote for them.

 

We saw what happened in Barbuda.  That was history.  Thirty-two years the Antigua Labour Party did not win the Council, and look what happened Madame Speaker, look at how history was created.

 

What do you want to tell me, that the mock elections or the simulated elections that was done by the Free and Fair Election League. Sixteen – zero.  Even if they have a margin of error at twenty-five, thirty percent not even one seat.  And, you know Rick James don’t love the Labour Party.

 

So what do want to tell me, not even one seat, Madame Speaker, and what it shows is the propensity.  We did not do any mobilization; we didn’t call one constituent and asked them to go to Epicurean or Bargain Centre to vote.  And, people went.  Eleven hundred and something and they could not win.

 

So the point I’m making Madam Speaker, is that God is on our side, and when you know you’re doing something just, Madame Speaker, but they are paranoid over there.

 

I am so disappointed in the Honourable Member for St. John’s Rural West, Madame Speaker, it’s only because of the love, and the bonds, and friendships, and the caring, and the passion that I have for the people of St. Peters why I would never neglect them.  I will never go to another constituency, or else, Madame Speaker, but I want to tell you, I would love a fight with the Honourable Member for St. John’s Rural West.

 

If I wasn’t in St. Peter and in another constituency, I would have gone down there and take him on, because, he has done absolutely nothing in his constituency.     You know how many young people went to the branch meeting, and you know how many of them said he passed them with his glassed wined up, and zoomed he gone.

 

Baldwin Spencer, the grassroots’ Trade Unionist that we knew in this country, no longer has time for his people.

 

Madame Speaker, I will close.

 

I want to say though that the Chairman of the Electoral Commission is supposed to be highly regarded and respected and his integrity is supposed to be unquestionable.  And, our very presence here this Tuesday, 24th September, at seven minutes past eight, more than twenty-four hours after the registration is supposed to have commenced is testament of his incapacity, and I cannot Madame Speaker, will not for the benefit of the people of this country, and in good conscience could vote in favour of this resolution.

 

No way, Madame Speaker.  Thank You.

 

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