Saturday, March 14, 2009

Kudos to Bishop Dorsette


By Sojourner

Unlike many other polling stations, things went rather smoothly at the one where I voted. When I arrived there at about 6:15 am, there was already a sizeable crowd. People were standing in two lines, huddled together, determined to cast their X. Although the line moved slowly, and some unruly, ill disciplined persons jumped the line, there was not much to complain about. But that is me… at my station…Mary E. Pigott school in the constituency of St. Johns City South.

One of my sisters called me from her polling station at about 8 a.m., when I was just leaving mine. She had gotten there at about 4:30 a.m., and when she was calling me was when the polling station was opening – 8:00 a.m. She had been standing in the line… being there first… and had been there for almost 4 hours! She was not perturbed, just determined to cast her vote. As I drove home, and listened to the radio, I learned that other polling stations were similarly afflicted.

When I got home, there was mounting disquiet about the late start of the voting, and over the fact that some polling stations were still closed. Greenbay school was one such station. I jumped in my car and journeyed to Grays Farm. There were hundreds and hundreds of people standing in the lines. They all seemed determined to vote. And I must say that I felt proud of Grays Farm people… there was no fuss…just quiet determination. They stood there… waiting.

By the time I left there, I had a splitting headache. I was coming down with the flu and standing in the sun had aggravated the situation.

As I listened to radio and heard of the delays, I could not help asking questions about why this happened.  How is it that there is all this confusion around an activity that we had all the time in the world to prepare for? As I thought about that, a couple of things came to mind.

Although I would love to jump on the band wagon and lay all the blame at the feet of the commission, I think that other persons must take the blame too.

Yes, the  Electoral Commission and the Election Office, must take responsibility for what has happened. After all, the buck stops with them. They should have ensured that they have all the necessary measures in place... including a Plan A and a Plan B. They should have assessed the situation (anticipated the mad rush based on past experiences with the Antiguan public… we are a last minute people); they should have put in place a support staff to augment the work of the office... and should have hired some extra hands; and, they should have anticipated the breakdown of the machine. Most of us who have copied stuff on these machines, know that when these machines are ‘pressured’, they overheat, they stick up, they splat, they breakdown. This is normal machine behavior! And so there should have been a plan B and C.

And there should have been more than one data entry officer.  One may be sufficient for the daily operation of the Commission, but at a time when there was this mad rush, in the days before the election, someone should have thought of getting at least another pair of hands. There is only so much that one pair can do!

So the commission dropped the ball there.

But what about the people? The stakeholders, the electors, political parties, and their candidates?

Much of the confusion was caused because we Antiguans  and the others who are sneaking in. We caused the problem. Period.  Many persons waited until the last minute to look for their cards... in fact many persons did not really look for their cards. They turned up at the commission and expected that their cards would be ready… Pronto!

Now can you see how this mad rush would have prevented the Electoral Office from doing all the necessary things to ready itself for the successful execution of the electoral process? So we are fussing, but we are not fussing with the right people. We dropped the ball too

And it is obvious that the political parties were not doing what they were supposed to do. Too many persons did not even know where they were to cast their vote. It seems like the candidates should have made it their duty to inform the persons in their constituencies.  Make it easy for them to vote! So the candidates dropped the ball, big time!

But as I thought about the situation. My mind went into over drive and a lot of pieces of information began to coalesce around voting confusion and began to make sense.

About two years or more ago, someone shared some concerns with me about ALP politicians stuffing constituencies with non nationals. Then, when Mr.  Everet Christian, Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce raised concern the other day about the increase in the voters’ list, red flags went up. When I put all this together with the situation where one of the ALP candidates… the lawyer who was signing documents for non nationals so that they can get their passport… it all began to make some sense.

Additionally, when I began to think of the situation where there was an inquiry into how many non nationals were illegally acquiring temporary residence status… all with the help of top persons at immigration, it also began to make sense. 

And when I think of the persons who are in top positions at Immigration and the Election Office who are strongly aligned to the ALP,  I started to smell a rat. Some people would say that things look fishy. Whatever… there is something awry. Something needs to be put under the microscope.

Yesterday, I heard of Bishop Dorsett’s intention to resign and his call for the other commissioners to resign. I say Kudos to Dorsett.

Here is a man of integrity, and one who understands the principle of accountability. It is a decent thing to do.

The Commission presided over a system that failed miserable. It does not matter who is at fault. The buck stops with the Commission. And I agree that they should resign.

So I am adding my voice to Bishop Dorsett’s. But the Bishop did not just stay there. He also calls for the top officers at the Election Office to resign as well.  And I strongly support this. In fact I support this move even more than the call for the resignation on of the commissioners. Bishop Dorsett also called for an inquiry which I strongly support, and it must be supported by the public as well.

I want to also add that they must link this inquiry with an inquiry into the distribution of Temporary Residence status  given by the Immigration Office over the last 5 years.

Kudos to Bishop Dorsett. Let us join or voices with his. Commissioners and top election officers must resign and we need an inquiry.  It won’t be business as usual!