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Roll up the sleeves and get on with reform

The absence of information helps fuel speculation. Dots left dangling get connected, whether the dots warrant it or not, and that which might otherwise be viewed as unreasonable comes across as reasonable.

As you well know, Mr Editor, it happens a lot in politics: sometimes innocently, mostly not.

Let me give you a current example. Developer Nathan Landau was reported as having given $300,000 to the One Bermuda Alliance election campaign.

He was quoted as saying that he understood that it was for some sort of underground campaign; for getting out the vote, he was told, getting people to the polls.

Now fast forward, to a different day, different story.

MP Walton Brown, chairman of the House committee on Elections, discloses that he has sworn Affidavits from voters who claim to have received inducements leading up to the last election in the form of grocery and/or other vouchers, which amount to very serious allegations and which, if proven, would constitute not just breaches but criminal offences under our Parliamentary Election Act.

Let's be clear: I am not saying the two are connected, but you can see how these rumours get started and how they get legs until someone somewhere who knows the facts shares those facts with all of us (please); the sooner, the better.

It's not hard to put two and two together and come up with five.

However, and here's another point I am trying to make, this sorry example serves to underscore once more the need for electoral reform in Bermuda; reform that is long overdue. We continue to operate under legislation and rules that are almost 50 years old. The world of good governance has long since marched on.

The challenges that come from working with outdated legislation were highlighted, thankfully, by the recent reports and recommendations of that House committee on Elections and the debate on the Hill which ensued.

The sharp focus, and that which led to a majority and minority report, divided along party lines, surprise, surprise, was the question of what interests in Government contracts election candidates are required by law to disclose.

Like I told the committee, it always seemed clear to me that when it comes to disclosure it was better to err on the side of caution. Disclose, disclose, disclose.

You can't go wrong with disclosure. It's also good practice and consistent with standards that are being urged upon legislators today, certainly within the Commonwealth of which we area member.

To my mind, it simply isn't worth the risk of disqualification for non-disclosure, not to mention the potential embarrassment and/or harassment that will likely hover like a dark cloud.

Still there remains a problem whichever way we choose to go: who is to know? Just who polices the system to ensure compliance and accountability?

This arguably is the problem which needs immediate attention, and one which the Elections committee was also called upon to solve.

They all agreed (surprise, surprise) on an Electoral Commission.

This is not a new idea; in fact, it was urged on the House committee by a number of people, myself included.

It is not that we necessarily need another layer of bureaucracy. But what we do need is a body that will take responsibility and take action. This is what has been sorely missing.

The call for an Electoral Commission was also a convenient and easy way for the committee of the House to pass on the problems and hard work to someone else.

Reform does actually require someone to roll up their sleeves and get on with it. Some of that work I highlighted in detail in my submission and forgive me, Mr Editor, if you have heard it before.

You have, as I continue, to beat the drum for better governance.

I recommended an independent Electoral Commission modelled along the lines of the Boundaries Commission to oversee parliamentary elections, to report and make recommendations directly to the Legislature, thereby eliminating executive (Cabinet) review and control.

This body would also police, enforce and make clear disclosure requirements. It could also assume responsibility of the political broadcast regulations (the current system has proven an impossible partisan sham based on past performance) and make a start on guidelines and rules on campaign advertising and finance.

That alone is a tall order. There are other items worthy of attention as well:

* Resolution of the vexing outstanding question of what constitutes ordinarily resident in Bermuda for the purposes of voting on election day as well as what qualifies (or not) as ordinarily resident in the particular constituency in which a voter is registered.

* The unmet challenges to registrations and re-registrations generally, and most particularly when the election writ issues.

* The need for and efficacy of having a fixed period time between issue of the writ and election day.

* Ditto the need for fixed term elections.

* Making advance polls more meaningful and practical whether travelling or confined to home.

* The introduction (finally) of absentee balloting.

The list is not exhaustive. Most should recognise that some of the items were promises of the OBA going into the last election, but that's no reason why all of them should not become a national imperative.

There is still time to get it done before the next election — assuming, of course, this Government remains on track for a full five year term. You think?

* Share your views on The Royal Gazette website or write jbarritt@ibl.bm.

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Published June 20, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated June 19, 2014 at 7:45 pm)

Roll up the sleeves and get on with reform

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