With no focus on Electoral Reform the UWP probably wants to remain in opposition forever
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit is scheduled to present the nation's budget for the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year when he addresses parliament tomorrow, Tuesday 26th February 2016.
While we expect Prime Minister Skerrit to give Dominicans some indication that the Government of Dominica is, at last, getting serious about confronting the major problem affecting Dominica at this point in our history (see our Editorial of 11 July entitled: "It's really the economy, stupid"); we also hope that Mr. Skerrit will demonstrate that he is serious about reforming the country's electoral laws by allocating adequate funds to the Electoral Commission to complete necessary tasks such as the issuance of relevant identification cards and the cleaning up of the voter's list.
Given that Dominica experiences so many problems, especially after Tropical Storm Erika, some people may express the view that electoral reform is not at the top of the list of priorities now. We disagree. Electoral reform may be the catalyst to transform this extremely divided country into a unified force for change. Particularly after TS Erika, we need the majority of Dominicans striving valiantly towards achieving national goals set by a government that was, in the view of almost all citizens, legitimately elected in a general election that was really free and obviously fair. That is not the case in the present circumstances. More than half of Dominica's population now says, disinterestedly: "Let Skerrit run his country, he doh win noh". They couldn't care less.
Although we may concede that elections in Dominica have been relatively free (in the broadest meaning of the term) we have also argued on many occasions in this newspaper that elections in Dominica will not be fair until there are substantial changes to elections financing regulations. In fact, "changes" is the wrong word because these regulations do not exist at all. Without campaign finance legislation, the electoral playing field is not even.
Almost everyone who witnessed political campaigns here will attest to the fact that it takes large amounts of money to organise and run these events. Over the past few elections, for instance, the two major political parties spent tens of millions of dollars on billboards, radio, television and newspaper advertising; the bussing of supporters to mass rallies (that now resemble massive fetes); paying air tickets for persons from the Diaspora to travel here to vote, and on campaigning from house to house and village to village.
In fact during the recent bye-election in the Soufriere Constituency we again witnessed how uneven the electoral playing field was in Dominica when the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) outspent the United Workers Party (UWP) almost 20 to one.
But the level of unfairness was not as bad as the 2014 campaign that some people describe as the most expensive election ever held in Dominica. Unconfirmed reports indicated the DLP alone spent more than EC$40 million on that election campaign. Hence, we are always amazed by the indifference of Dominicans towards what boils down to the actual purchase of Dominica's electoral system by persons unknown. We note too that although the UWP spent considerably less than the DLP in the 2014 general election campaign, the opposition has also failed to disclose it sources of financing.
So, as we stated earlier, we need to begin talking about enacting campaign finance laws and finding ways to enforce them. Otherwise the culture of political corruption will continue to corrode our citizens' faith and confidence in the elected process.
What is more disturbing is that we expect upcoming campaigns to be even costlier yet people will not ask the politicians about the source of the large amounts of money that they spend: is it from drug dealers? Rich businessmen? Foreign governments? Passport sales? Is it from Columbian drug cartels, the Chinese or Russian mafia? In his statement to the press a few months ago on the issue of electoral reform, Mr. Skerrit mentioned the contentious, and probably illegal, practice of political parties paying the transportation costs of Dominicans who travel from overseas to vote.
Mr. Skerrit has proposed that his Government will be seeking to change the law on that issue to make the practice legal. This is a bad idea.
Mr. Skerrit said the law on bribery will be amended including the law that states that transportation of electors or supporters is unlawful. The DLP argues that it is unlawful if such transportation of electors or supporters is provided for the purpose of inducing persons to vote for a particular candidate and or a party when otherwise they would not vote for the candidate in question. Otherwise, the party argues, it is not against the law.
In addition, the Skerrit administration has always maintained that giving "something for something"- purchasing plane tickets in exchange for votes-is not bribery. But many astute legal minds beg to differ.
For instance, former chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Sir Brian Alleyne, has stated that the provision of an airline ticket to someone from the Diaspora to travel here to vote may be described as bribery. It would also be a different matter, he suggested, if a national fund was established to facilitate voting generally and available unconditionally to all people in the Diaspora.
But these issues pertaining to electoral reform are, unfortunately, not at the top of the opposition's agenda. It should be because, in our view, the UWP's only chance of winning any general election, unless the DLP self-destructs, is after a thorough reform of the electoral process. Yet, amazingly, the UWP gives such lukewarm and unfocussed attention to the issue of electoral reform that one wonders whether the UWP secretly prefers to remain in opposition in perpetuity. Maybe it does.