Centre to draw up election proposals
An Electoral Commission could settle arguments over whether election candidates' are eligible to take their seats in Parliament, a civil liberties group said last night.
And the Centre for Justice pledged to draw up a list of proposals to restructure the election process by the end of the year.
The group was drafted in by a Parliamentary select committee, drawn from members of both main parties, to help decide whether MPs, who had not declared an interest in Government contracts after being nominated as candidates, were eligible to sit in the House of Assembly.
The Centre said that, under current rules, the only way to sanction a candidate for breach of an obligation, like the requirement for disclosure of business links with Government, is to file a petition under a 1968 law with Supreme Court within 28 days of the return of the writ of election.
“Unfortunately, such proceedings are cumbersome and costly. They are also not proactive as they can only be issued after a candidate is elected a Member of Parliament,” the Centre said.
“In addition, this Act also requires the petition to be served on the Attorney General. This could raise questions of fairness where the Attorney General is a political appointment under the Constitution.”
The statement added: “Enforcement of requirements pertaining to electoral candidates, including the obligation to disclose an interest in a Government contract, could be by way of an independent non-partisan Electoral Commission.
“We would expect the Commission to be given a wide range of powers to receive complaints, inquire as appropriate and sanction offending parties.”
The Centre for Justice said that the requirement to disclose business links with Government should also be “prominently placed on the nomination papers candidates must submit to take part in an electoral campaign.”
The statement came after the Centre got an opinion from English QC James Goudie, which said that under the Constitution, disclosure should be made, subject to the exemptions and limitations contained in legislation “which should be interpreted narrowly so as to detract to the minimum extent possibly from the dominant requirement.
“Justification for any lack of transparency must be clearly demonstrated.”
And the Centre said the 1968 legislation should be amended “to remove any ambiguity”.
“The amendments should include enforcement provisions, in particular, by whom and how the requirements are to be policed and enforced.”