FILE PHOTO: Sir Dennis Byron and Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit at a CCJ function in 2015
FILE PHOTO: Sir Dennis Byron and Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit at a CCJ function in 2015

Where is Sir Dennis Byron?

That's the question the United Workers Party (UWP) is posing to the prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, who had promised that the eminent Caribbean jurist would have been here to begin work on 1 September on electoral reform.

"We have not heard peep from Sir Byron as to why he didn't start from the first of September, nor have we heard from the prime minister why Sir Byron has not started and he's supposed to finish on the 31st of December. This is what we were told. So, we need to ask questions as to why neither Sir Byron or the prime minister has given us an explanation," Nicholas George, the general secretary of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP), told The Sun.

Skerrit first announced at the swearing-in of his new cabinet in December last year that Sir Dennis had been selected as the sole commissioner for electoral reform. At the beginning of March this year the prime minister revealed that the prominent jurist was "to make a first visit to Dominica in the month of March on our information gathering exercise and once he comes into Dominica, he will be exposed to all the relevant stakeholders including the media."

However, with Caribbean countries, including Dominica, having had to close their borders due to COVID-19, there was no movement on this until 25 August, when the cabinet met and approved his appointment "to examine the electoral process in Dominica", according to the minutes of the meeting signed on 1 September by Steve Ferrol, the cabinet secretary.

The ministers agreed that the scope of work would include a review of existing legislation with a view to proposing amendments, a review of electoral and other such reports, proposing recommendations on how to proceed, including legislative reforms to strengthen the electoral process and advice on voter identification cards, and advice on how to update and maintain the electoral register.

For his service, Sir Dennis would be paid EC$450,000, half of which was due at the beginning of the exercise and the remainder at the end, according to the minutes, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun.

In early October, more than a month after the former chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and former Caribbean Court of Justice president was due to begin work, Skerrit announced on his personal radio talk show that he had asked the Organisation of the American States and the Commonwealth to "provide to us an expert from their organisation" to work alongside Sir Dennis. Otherwise, there's been nothing but silence on the project, leaving George to wonder if any work would be done at all, and whether any report presented by Sir Dennis could be trusted.

"Why must we put weight on anything that he writes, if he ever writes," the UWP spokesman said.

"We have had no comment, no statement coming from this luminary, this eminent jurist that we have in the Caribbean. None from him, nothing from the Prime Minister. What's happening? Is there collusion? It's ripe for speculation," he added.

In any event, George did not believe that the retired supreme court judge should have been invited here for this exercise in the first place, adopting a position that's contrary to the UWP leader, Lennox Linton, who soon after the initial announcement had said the UWP had no problem with the decision to contract Sir Dennis but "or anybody else", but that he had an issue "with the styling of the assignment".

The general secretary argued that the work had already been done locally and presented to a joint mission of the OAS, the Commonwealth and the Caribbean Community last year. Recommendations on electoral reform presented by that team to the Skerrit government included a reverification process before the last general election and the introduction of voter identification cards. These recommendations were rejected by the government.

George told The Sun Sir Dennis would simply read the various reports "and regurgitate" the recommendations, making the $450,000 he is to be paid "a waste of money".

But despite his objection to the exercise, the UWP spokesman said there must be clarity on the way forward since the deadline for completion of the project is quickly approaching.