Freedom Party's Sabaroache campaigns for electoral reform in 2009
Freedom Party's Sabaroache campaigns for electoral reform in 2009

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the former premier of the Soviet Union (1958 to 1964) once said: "Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges when there are no rivers".

Along the same line of Khrushchev's observation, there's the anecdote about Sir William Alexander Clarke Bustamante, the first prime minister of Jamaica after the island attained independence from Britain in 1962.

Busta, as he was popularly known, was in the heat of an election campaign meeting in an area in Clarendon when he promised his supporters that he will build a bridge in the area.

"But Busta", someone shouted from the crowd, "We have no river''.

"I will give that to you too!" Busta instantly responded. And the people cheered loud and long.

We are not sure whether Clarendon ever received its promised bridge and its fantasy river but that story clearly illustrates the level of gullibility of supporters of politicians everywhere and the empty promises that all politicians make during election campaigns.

But this specific promise by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, to recommence the electoral reform process within the first 100 days after the commencement of the current administration, does not fall within the category of Busta's bridge and river to the people of Clarendon.

Of course, you recall that Prime Minister Skerrit said in December 2019, just after the highly controversial general election during which electoral reform was a burning issue, that he would be forming a commission to move the process of electoral reform forward.

Here's what Mr. Skerrit promised.

He said "the work of that commission added to all the previous consultancies and electoral reports from various international organizations, together with the decision of the courts, will inform the shape of Dominica's electoral reform. Public hearings will be held throughout the country and all Dominicans will be able to appear before the commission and give their views."

He said that provisions will be made for anonymous submissions as well as for an open discussion forum on social media sites. He said, and we repeat, that this would be one of the priority items of the agenda for the first 100 days of the new DLP administration.

He said distinguished Caribbean jurist Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron was scheduled to be the sole commissioner on electoral reform. Prime Minister Skerrit said that his Dominica Labour Party government was developing the terms of reference for the commissioner and once Sir Byron's work began his work here "he will be exposed to all the relevant stakeholders including the media."

It has been more than 200 days since the commencement of new DLP administration but have we been updated on the progress of the Sir Byron Commission on electoral reform? No, there has not been even a whimper, as far as we are aware.

And what is even more astonishing is that the whole issue of electoral reform is apparently been buried by the COVID -19 pandemic; neither government nor the opposition, nor civil society is mentioning that important promise that Prime Minister Skerrit made to the nation.

But as we said in an earlier editorial, from the beginning there seemed to be something extremely incorrect with that process for electoral reform that Prime Minister Skerrit, the political leader of the Dominica Labour Party, described in his victory speech after the December 2019 general election.

In that speech, it appeared that the so-called independent Electoral Commission did not exist; it was a mere onlooker rather the lead institution in the electoral reform process.

We believe that based on past experience, many Dominicans do not trust governments, any government, to act impartially on the issue of electoral reform. People who oppose the DLP government have stated that Mr. Skerrit has no interest in implementing electoral reform and he may be cleverly using Sir Byron's eminence to save face after he ignored calls for electoral reform, called early elections and rejected the recommendations of his own consultants on electoral reform claiming that there was insufficient time to implement the recommendations.

But please note that our discomfort with the proposed Sir Byron commission is not with the qualifications or experience of the commissioner himself. As you already know, Sir Byron is a former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice; he served as President of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute; he was the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and is a former Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Therefore, the problem is not with the capability of Sir Byron to conduct the Commission fairly and thoroughly but with the terms of reference that Sir Byron will be assigned if it comes from the DLP government only and whether the opposition parties, civil society groups and the Electoral Commission will have any input in drafting these terms of reference.

But we argue that if the people of Dominica is to maintain the faith, however variable that may be, in the word of the prime minister, then we urge Mr. Skerrit to make a greater effort at keeping a promise as specific as this: to commence the process of electoral reform within 100 days of the beginning of the new administration. We wait eagerly for the electoral reform process to begin. Correction: to continue.