The Proposed Electoral Amendments – A Response to Mr. Anthony Astaphan
By Rev. Dr. William Watty
Let me begin my response to Mr. Astaphan's contribution, as published in the Sun of 6th June, by endorsing his observation of my ignorance of the law, and add a word of appreciation for his leniency in the criticism. I would have been much more severe. I am not merely ignorant of the law; I am not at all interested. Period. For if the intent and purpose of the precedents, judgements and definitions Mr. Astaphan has so diligently assembled and researched was to justify and promote the outrage that is about to be visited upon our country with the amending of the House of Assembly (Elections) Act, then I am more than happy to leave that obsession and the skills it requires, to the likes of him, and rest content in my ignorance and indifference.
On the other hand, I promise that, whenever he finds it possible, not merely to resurrect all those precedents and definitions but, from the vantage-point of the distortions and contradictions that confront and threaten to destabilize our fragile democracy, also to interrogate them as eagerly as he is ever ready to invoke them, then I will try to stir up some interest and even take him a little more seriously. Until then, I must continue to dismiss him as I should any charlatan, and for this reason, viz. that he who is yet to confess the biases that so drive him to belch castigations at every unpalatable observation regarding the Government's performance, now has the Aramaean gall to paint me partisan, and that naked, the better to prop his tottering credibility.
Therefore, I do have a real problem with his disingenuousness. Having digested my argument that, in the context of an Election, it is not the intention/motivation, which is neither apparent nor reliable, that can determine the bribe but, much better, the making of an offer of transportation that was not first requested, he preferred to detach my consideration of motivation/intention from its comparison with the superior validity of the unrequested offer, in order to dismiss the detached reference as "forensic nonsense". If that is "law", then may he prosper in his proficiency. I prefer to languish in my ignorance.
Perhaps his most devastating attack on my contribution was my hypocrisy, which he discovered in my belated outcry, after half a century of silence, during which these "bribes" were the common practice by all the Parties contending in the Elections. Under that blistering exposure, I was expected, no doubt, to shamefacedly withdraw my criticisms, ask for forgiveness and retire into perpetual silence. May I, however, offer two explanations in defence of my "hypocrisy". Firstly, it was not in 1967, or the closing decades of the last century, but in the first two decades of this century, that the practice of bribery became so scandalous, escalated so shamelessly and became so decisive for the outcome of Elections, that it has now reached the point of being fumigated and sanitized by legislation "for the avoidance of doubt". Secondly, and I hope he can bear with me, I was not here in 1967, or the rest of that century minus three years. I migrated in 1955 and did not return until 1997. If, therefore, Mr. Astaphan can explain to me how I could have appreciated the problem of bribery in Dominica from Kingston or London or Port of Spain or Birmingham or St. John's, or how, from those distances, any input of mine could have made the slightest difference, when there was no DNO or Internet or even FAX, and the swiftest means of written communication was postage by Air Mail, I am all ears.
A good example, by the way, of the point I have been trying to make about the difficulties regarding the corrupt intention, is my difficulty in fathoming the intention that induced Mr. Astaphan to link me with Mr. Linton, since I am quite unaware of the connection he has attempted to forge. It ought, by now, to be common knowledge that, whatever one might think of him, Mr. Linton is well able to speak for himself and needs no mouth-piece. Let those political leaders who are in need of one, or any mouth-piece that needs a political leader, find one another and cleave; but Mr. Linton so far as I can surmise, will not for a long time be that Leader nor, God helping me, will I diminish myself to become another man's mouth. God's is more than enough for me. That clarified, I must now protest that nowhere have I ever written, hinted, implied or suggested that the provision of transportation, not previously requested, constitutes a crime. Whether it be so or not, I have neither the competence nor the ambition to pronounce on such matters. Mr. Astaphan should therefore read again what I wrote, or else hire an eye-piece to make up for any difficulty he might have in deciphering the vocabulary or unscrambling the complicated grammar. What I suggested was that, in the situation of an Election, whether in the planning stages or the on-going process, any offer of transportation made to a prospective Elector, that was not first requested was, in that context, tantamount to bribery. That is still my position, like it or lump it. Multiplying it by the hundreds, elevating it in the aircrafts, legalizing it "for the avoidance of doubt", will not change the reality. It still spells bribery. It has nothing to do with the would-be benefactor's intention which is, if I may say so, a red-herring; for who, but the corrupt inducer, can divine the "intention corruptly to induce"? However, whether it is, or should be, a crime is quite another matter and none of my business. Cite your Halsbury and all the eminent jurists if you like, it is of no avail. Deodorize it as best you can, bribery remains bribery. It is the context of an impending or on-going Election that renders the premature, because unrequested, offer so inappropriate that, when multiplied in plane loads, it becomes so scandalous and so dangerous. On the day following the Election, an offer of transportation, made by the same benefactor, to the same beneficiary, requested or not, and in the same vehicle, to the same destination, along the same route, will not be a bribe, but an act of kindness. The Election is over. However, in the context of an imminent Election, an offer of transportation that was not requested can mean only one thing and, for its determination, the intention or motivation of the would-be benefactor, being inaccessible and, in any event, inherently unreliable, is manifestly irrelevant.
Last, but not least, in recalling the time-honoured practice of Political Parties of mobilizing their members for transportation to Polling Stations, Mr. Astaphan, in casting aspersion on the importance I attached to the initiative of a request, may have either overlooked or chosen to ignore my mention of mitigating circumstances, deriving from substantive relationships characterized by depth, constancy and continuity. The particular example I cited was the obvious one of marriage, but the principle could reasonably be extended to Political Parties, or any other stable grouping with registered membership, where prior arrangements for transportation might quite legitimately anticipate consent from affiliated members without incurring the charge of bribery. Such a facility might, of course, be extended also to other passengers, "supporters" or not, provided that the offer was in response to an initial request and approved without duress or strings attached, or refused without prejudice. What is difficult about that?