Commissioner for Electoral Reform Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron
Commissioner for Electoral Reform Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron

It took three long years. It generated thousands of words delivered in black and white text, thousands of bitter words shouted online and at face–to–face meetings held all over Dominica and in the diaspora; it costs taxpayers thousands of Eastern Caribbean dollars, more than 600,000 of them.

Yet, at Christmas 2023, Dominicans wait patiently, some people say in vain, for the electoral reform that they have demanded for 15 years.

After many stops and starts, accusations and counter-accusations, snap elections, and the COVID-19 pandemic, Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron, the sole commissioner on electoral reform in Dominica, presented his final report in June 2023.

Many commentators claim that the report may be the catalyst to begin much-needed electoral reform. Still, others say the Byron Report will not engender free and fair elections, the bedrock of a true democracy.

"The critical features of Sir Byron's final report include the following provisions that will allow Mr. Skerrit to conduct elections in the same manner that he has done before, contrary to the caution of the CCJ but without any accusations of illegality or unlawfulness."

That was the assessment of Dominica-born Canadian Judge Dr. Irving André in a June 27 statement titled "Citizens Exploring Free and Fair Elections in Dominica."

Dr. André added: "Sir Byron had to symbolically dive deep and far in an ocean where no electoral expert had gone before, where no light of democracy shines, to surface with a titanic of rusting reforms that will destroy Dominica's democracy and instead create a Skerritocracy with red carpets leading to mansions, banks, shady convicted ambassadors and incomplete or empty hotels".

One of the burning issues Sir Dennis needed to address adequately in his report was campaign financing, Lennox Linton, the former political leader of the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP), stated.

"The big matter in elections for us in Dominica - in so far as money is concerned - is where the Labour Party gets all the millions it is spending," he said. "Yet this is not addressed at all."

Major Issues

The other issues that Sir Dennis should have addressed fully were the legality of paying the airfare of people everywhere in the world to come to Dominica to vote and the residency criteria of the current electoral laws.

So, why did Roosevelt Skerrit, the Prime Minister of Dominica, hire Sir Dennis to reform Dominica's electoral laws?

"Dominica's electoral process is old and needs modernisation'," said Sir Dennis at one of the many public consultations before he completed his report.

"My mandate became necessary because the electoral process had become so contentious, that the much-needed reforms could not find consensus…," he said. "The regulatory framework for the electoral process is old, and it needs modernisation."

According to the former Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) president, the essential aspects of his work included reviewing the existing legislation and the various reports, opinions, and views of previous advisors on the reform of the electoral process.

Furthermore, he said one should bear in mind the real purpose of elections: to secure and sustain a legitimate government within an inclusive and democratic society.

Because electoral reform, or modernisation, is so vital to the survival of our democracy and because of the heated and prolonged debate that Sir Dennis' report generated in the news in 2023, Sir Dennis Byron is the Sun's Person of the Year.

In 2023, as in the past, we selected our Person of the Year through an analysis of the news and by consultation with key individuals in collecting and processing media reports on the year's main events.

Our choice, as always, is the Person, institution, or organisation that stands out as a significant newsmaker during the year. The Person of the Year should, for better or for worse, have affected the lives of a large majority of Dominicans.