Tue | Apr 23, 2019

Editorial | Further to Mr Holness’ fumble

Published:Thursday | March 7, 2019 | 8:13 AM

At first blush, Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ bungling of the date for the East Portland by-election calls into question the quality of the legal advice available to him, even as it insists on a fuller explanation of the basis on which he ‘corrected’ the flaw, as well as the need to bring the election laws into harmony with those governing how business can be conducted in Jamaica.

The fiasco also highlights gaps in transparency to which the Government must attend.

At the same time, we see a contrived outrage and cynical opportunism in the gloating by the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) over the prime minister’s embarrassment, having found no fault, or none it made public, in the dates Mr Holness announced for the nomination of candidates and for the holding of the poll, until after the PM himself declared something to be wrong. The PNP then hollered incompetence.

The East Portland by-election was necessitated by last month’s murder of East Portland’s sitting member of parliament, the PNP’s Lynvale Bloomfield. It will pit the party’s new standard-bearer, Damion Crawford, against the Jamaica Labour Party’s Ann-Marie Vaz, the wife of a Cabinet minister, who represents the constituency next door.

POLL ANNOUNCEMENT

Last Friday, at a public meeting in the constituency, Mr Holness announced that the poll would be held March 25 and that candidates would be nominated on March 8, thus providing the minimum clear days required between the nomination of candidates and the taking of the vote.

But earlier this week, Mr Holness reversed himself, announcing that nominations would be pushed back a week, to March 15, and the election by 10 days, to April 4.

This change, according to Jamaica House, was because Section 21 (1A) of the Representation of the People Act, “provides that the day appointed for nomination day shall be at least five clear days after the announcement of an election”. Indeed, there is that stipulation in the law.

The act also says, at Section 21 (1), that “ nomination day shall be the such day, other than a Sunday or public holiday, as may be appointed by the minister, by notice in the Gazette , not being more than seven days after the publication of the notice”.

We presume that the two sections should be read in concert. The implication, by the prime minister’s action, is that someone got their sums wrong.

Did they?

In any event, and assuming that the PM had no other motive for his action, last Sunday, and yesterday, Ash Wednesday, would not be counted in the five clear days between Mr Holness’ initial announcement, on Friday, March 1, of the election date and the nomination day.

There is, however, the possibility that despite the PM’s declaration of the nomination and election days, these dates had not been promulgated in the Gazette and could not have done so with sufficient time to meet the “five clear days” stipulation of the law.

The Gazette is an important instrument of communication for the Government, the medium through which it gives final and formal authority to many of its actions. Yet, it is like a secret document, known by, and available to, the few. This is an untenable limit on transparency, which must be addressed.

Further, the flexi-week legislation makes all seven days of the week working days, over which employees, in agreement with their employers, can accumulate the 40 hours of their workweek. It seems to us that our democracy, of which elections are critical representation, is too important not to enjoy similarly sensible flexibility in its operation.