The legal adviser to the Elections Commission came in for some blistering, public, abuse by Commissioner Desmond Trotman, who referred to the young lawyer as practising ‘deceit.’ Apparently, the opinion she gave as to the law relating to registration of electors, was not to his liking, as it contradicted the position that he and his fellow Government-appointed Commissioners had been advocating. Ms. Excellence Dazell advised as follows: “I therefore advise that procedures be put in place to ensure the revision of the list, otherwise the Commission would be acting in defiance of the law….” Ms. Dazell argued that “based on (election laws), the list must be updated bi-annually by adding persons who are now qualified to be registered, to that list, and those who are no longer qualified to be registered, to be taken off that list….”
There are two laws that are mainly relevant to registration and elections. These are the National Registration Act and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act.
The National Registration Act provides as follows:
Section 6(1): It is lawful for the Commissioner to authorise the registration of all persons who qualify to be electors and all other persons aged 14 and over and such registration shall continue and be conducted in such manner and at such time as the Commission shall direct.
Section 6(4): The Commission is given authority to establish in each registration district one or more offices.
Section 6(A): “The Elections Commission shall use the official list of electors from the 2001 general and regional elections as the base to commence continuing registration. Provided that at any stage the Commission may undertake such verification as necessary by means to be determined by the Commission.”
Section 9: This section provides that the continuous registration process shall utilise the data generated by house to house registration, meaning a previous process.
Section 15: A preliminary list is to be prepared by the Commissioner and subjected to a claims and objections process whereby persons not on the list can be included and person who ought not to be on the list can be removed.
The Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2000 provides as follows:
Section 3: Where instructed by the Commission shall conduct house to house registration. It is noted that this is discretionary. “Where instructed” gives a discretion to the Commission to instruct or not.
Sections 3(3) and 4(2): These sections provide that sections 9 and 15 of the National Registration Act, among other sections, shall apply. These sections are explained above.
The above amendments to the National Registration Act to provide for continuous registration occurred in 2005 after an extensive debate to overhaul the registration system. The previous system of house to house registration, with periodic claims and objections processes near to elections had proved inadequate to ensure the registration of all persons who had become qualified. That was shown by the controversy over the list for the 2001 elections which came out of an extensively revised 1997 list. For 2001, all electors were photographed, and therefore verified.
The reorganisation of the registration system by continuous registration, involving the establishment of registration offices countrywide, and the employment of staff, required a massive expansion of the work of the Elections Commission at great cost to the taxpayer. The objective was to make the registration system more efficient and more effective.
Five years earlier, in 2000, the Election Laws (Amendment) Act was passed. It is now forgotten that this Act was passed in preparation for the preparatory exercises for the 2001 elections. Section 3 provides a discretion for house to house registration and for claims and objections. This Act also provided for scrutineers and for a voter ID card which the High Court later ruled to be unconstitutional.
The opportunity to amend the Election Laws (Amendment) Act to bring it up to date generally and in accordance with the amendments to the National Registration Act which were passed in 2005, described above, to give effect to continuous registration, was not taken. The amendments to the National Registration Act were poorly drafted and did not give full clarity and guidance. The end result of Election Laws (Amendment) Act not being amended and the inept amendments to the National Registration Act, sprinkled as they are with unanchored references to house to house registration, have resulted in confusion. This has facilitated the current misuse of contradictory and imprecise registration laws for political purposes. It is in this atmosphere that Ms. Dazell tried her professional best to give an honest, and largely correct, opinion, only to be egregiously defamed.
As indicated, the amendments in 2005 to the National Registration Act were intended to overhaul the registration system. The clear thrust was to substitute continuous registration for house to house registration. An modicum of accidental discretion remaining in the Commission is now being used to derail the constitutional consequences of the no confidence vote upheld by the Chief Justice and now, potentially, by the CCJ. Periodic house to house registration, nation-wide or district-wide, when necessary, should be a matter of consensus, in periods not charged by electioneering, and not as at present, during partisan politicking, tainted by hostile vulgarity against honest, professional, guidance. This merely exposes how heavily some are invested in delay and a new list. Why?