Island needs an Election Commission — Registrar tells Parliament committee
Parliamentary registrar Randy Scott suggested Government consider creating an Election Commission to help oversee the evolution of the Island's electoral process.
During yesterday's first public meeting of the Parliamentary Election Committee, Mr Scott said an autonomous commission made up largely of members of the public could tackle areas outside the remit of his office.
Mr Scott and assistant parliamentary registrar Tenia Woolridge said it could also be better if legislation regarding elections were able to go through an election commission rather than the Cabinet, noting that otherwise parties could potentially “cherry pick” what legislation moves forward.
“One of the downsides of this scenario is when the Government is in power, they pick the legislation that is going to benefit them and pass it,” Mr Scott said. “It's not good.”
The Committee, chaired by Shadow Education Minister Walton Brown, focused largely on if electoral candidates are required to disclose interests in Government prior to the election.
Mr Scott, who helped to organise the last two general elections and several by-elections, said his office sends both political parties and all independent candidates a package of information about election requirements.
“We just quoted the title of the act. That is all. Just a reminder, nothing more,” he said. “Once we have sent out our information packages, it's up to the candidates to address them. That's the extent of our role. My hands are pretty much tied.”
He said any issue of enforcement should be given to an election commission so that the Office of Parliamentary Registrar can continue to appear impartial.
Asked if he had any further suggestions as to how the election process should move forward, he suggested allowing returning officers to visit to the houses of individuals confined to their homes so that they can vote.
Meanwhile Ms Woolridge said it would be beneficial for their office to be able to have an in-house lawyer, noting that right now when a legal issue arises, they have to call the Attorney General who may be a candidate in the election.
Former Premier Alex Scott, who served as a Minister of Parliament from 1993 to 2012, told the committee that it was his understanding, under the constitution, that a candidate must publicly declare their interests in Government contracts within a week of their nomination.
“There had always been, from my recollection, the requirement to declare your interests,” he said. “You were certainly required to do that one you were elected and I do believe you were required to make that known prior to being successfully nominated.”
He said there is no real grey area in the legislation, stressing that it is vital for the public to be aware of a candidates interests so they can make an informed decision before they go to the polls.
“The public has the right to know the quality of the person who make themselves available because it's a very important trust that we are asking the public to put in our hands,” he said. “If you have a financial investment in your mind, required or not, it should be left to the public.”
Former opposition leader Kim Swan said that prior to elections as a UBP candidate, a party official had him fill out a form declaring his interests.
In the case of last year's general election, when he ran as an independent candidate, he said he called the parliamentary registrar concerned after seeing either an article or notice in the newspaper concerning candidates declaring their interests.
“I said I didn't have any Government contracts but I do work freelance in a Government facility just to make sure that I was not in breach,” he said. “I actually put something in the paper. I'm a golfer by trade. If you break the rules, you're penalised.”
He suggested that political parties should be have to declare their interests as a party as much as its candidates, saying: “At the end of the day, it's going to be one of the big parties that's going to be running the country.”
Mr Swan also suggested that Bermuda move to a fixed election cycle and adopt absentee ballots.