By Arthur Kallick
Judy Benoit, Grenada’s supervisor of elections, has been given marching orders by new Governor General Dame Cecile La Grenade. Ms Benoit received the letter which tersely states that her “services were no longer required”.
This surprise move comes against the backdrop of what the OAS observer mission described as a well run national poll in February 2013.
Arthur Kallick was born in Trinidad and lived in Grenada until he moved to Canada in the late 1980s after completing secondary school. He has a Master’s in family counselling and child physiology from the University of Toronto. He is now a freelance writer and has been living in Grenada for the past six years, and at present works with Caribbean Family Planning unit as a counsellor
The CARICOM observer mission also echoed the sentiments expressed by their OAS counterparts that the election process was efficient and they too described the elections as “free and fair”.
This turn of events has as its genesis in a letter from the permanent secretary, ministry of works, which purports to give direction to the supervisor in the exercise of her functions. Section 35 subsection 6 of the Constitution of Grenada states: “In the exercise of his functions under the foregoing provisions of this section, the Supervisor of Elections shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.”
The office of the Supervisor of Elections is an independent institution set up under the constitution and the office holder is appointed by the Governor General “in his own deliberate judgment”.
The permanent secretary conveyed that the Cabinet in its meeting of July 28th approved the use of eight centres for registration into the MPID system and the issuance of ID cards. The letter also informed that Cabinet had authorized the installation of internet services by telecommunications provider LIME at the approved centres.
News reports indicate that the supervisor questioned the validity of the instructions given in a letter dated 30th August 2013. A planned meeting to discuss the matter with the minister responsible for ICT in the cabinet did not take place and therefore Ms Benoit did not get an opportunity to ventilate her misgivings. However, on September 30, the supervisor received a letter from Governor General Dame Cecile La Grenade that her services will no longer be required as of October 1, 2013.
The MPID system referred to previously forms part of the Electronic Government for Regional Integration Project (EGRIP). The key component of this project is to harmonize and improve key e-government systems by focusing on specific interventions in core areas of public finance (including public finance management, tax, customs and procurement). National ID systems were not mentioned.
This main server for this system will be located at the Prime Minister’s Office. This is a cause for concern, as access to the names of persons on the list of electors and the issuance of ID cards may end up in the hands of unauthorized persons. The supervisor is reported to have said that she did not want to do anything that can “compromise the independence of the electoral process”.
It is clear that the permanent secretary, ministry of works is in no position to advise or direct the supervisor of elections. In fact the supervisor in her memorandum to the permanent secretary, ministry of works indicated that “I submit that this is not a matter of resistance but a commitment to the independence of this institution and to work within the confines of the laws governing the process”.
It is interesting to note that this problem has only surfaced in Grenada. St Lucia, St Vincent and Dominica are also participants in this sub-regional project.
The national community is becoming increasingly wary that this NNP administration will use its monopoly in the Parliament to act with impunity. Since the assumption of office, the commissioner of police was removed, head of the Financial Intelligence Unit was replaced by the spouse of a government minister, and the prison commissioner was sidelined. Surveillance of opposition political activities has increased thereby creating a climate of fear and intimidation.
The passage of the Electronics Crime Bill gives a clear indication of how this Mitchell-led regime intends to govern. The bill was extensively criticized by the international media; however, it was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives. Then the prime minister explained that it was not his intention to curb free speech and that legal counsel will have a second look. The Bill was then tabled in the Senate and not even a line or a comma was changed. The International Press Institute then wrote to the governor general asking her to withhold assent to the Bill so it cannot be enacted into law.
The latest episode in this saga is that the prime minister has given yet another commitment to remove the offending sections of the legislation. A hilarious merry go round. The million dollar question is when the prime minister will act on this commitment. Only time will tell.