Media Center



February 4, 2004 - OAS Permanent Council


El PRESIDENTE: We move now to the first item on the order of business. The distinguished Chief of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission in Grenada, Ambassador Corinne McKnight, will present a preliminary report on the general elections held in Grenada on November 27 of last year. Before offering you the floor, Ambassador McKnight, let me express our warmest welcome to you. You are well known to many of us here from your service here as Alternate Representative and as Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the OAS. Welcome back! It’s with much pleasure that I give you the floor.

La JEFA DE LA MISIÓN DE OBSERVACIÓN ELECTORAL DE LA OEA EN GRENADA: I thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is somewhat amazing and amusing for me to be back in this hall, especially under these circumstances.

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Assistant Secretary General, distinguished ambassadors and representatives:

It was my pleasure to accept this invitation to head this very important mission. I did it on the understanding that the purpose of the Organization of American States and, indeed, of the Unit for the Promotion of Democracy (UPD) is to maintain and strengthen the democratic processes in member states. Observing the election process as one of the fundamental means of citizens participating in that democracy gave the Unit and the OAS the opportunity to assess the quality of democracy in the member states.

I was also very aware of the fact that the OAS had been involved in an electoral observation mission in Grenada in 1999, so we particularly looked for any positive impact of the 1999 observation on what had happened in the interim.

The Electoral Observation Mission was composed as a technical mission in that all members of the Mission except yours truly had serious relevant credentials. Two members were former supervisors of elections in the Caribbean. This is important because our systems in the English-speaking Caribbean derive from a common British source of legislation, and our processes are still rather similar, so the contribution of those former supervisors of elections was extremely incisive. A third member was a professor of public law at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. His specialty is the public law of the English-speaking Caribbean countries. Another member was an information technology specialist who showed us how information systems were being used to strengthen democracy in Grenada. The OAS had been instrumental in assisting the Government of Grenada with these information systems.

I was particularly fortunate to be accompanied by Dr. Bruce Rickerson of the UPD. I must admit––not because he is behind my back and can possibly do me damage––that without his assistance, it would have been not difficult but impossible for me to do my task.

The benefit of having a technical mission was that it allowed us to be a little more incisive in what we looked at. Democracy in Grenada is well entrenched, so any actions to be taken were to support and strengthen democracy. The team felt that we should be looking at ways in which further assistance could be given.

The timeframe for our observation was brief. We were not able to get on the ground and be totally mobilized until some 30 to 48 hours before the observation was due to begin. This presented a few problems in that we were not able to observe and assess some of the areas that would have been normally considered critical. For example, we were not able to interview certain personnel. We were not able to get a feel for the culture of the political campaign. However, thanks to the good nature and very open personality of the people of Grenada and the authorities, as well as many harmonious discussions, we were able to meet with two of the political parties.

The Honorable Prime Minister graciously received me on the first morning that I was there, and we had a brief but very effective discussion on why he requested the Mission. It boils down to his faith in the Organization of American States, his satisfaction with the job that was done by our predecessors, and the fact that he needed to prove to his own people that the whole process was transparent.
We met with two of the political parties, representatives of civil society, and the Supervisor of Elections. All of these interviews were extremely helpful.

Let me briefly touch on the actual observation. Because, as I said before, our window of time was short, we were not able to deploy any observers on the islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique. Difficulties in getting there and the fact that we were not able to identify that constituency as one that could have been particularly difficult or different from those on the mainland were the main reasons. Our observations were limited to the island of Grenada.

I am happy to report that the response of the Grenadian population was enthusiastic and cooperative. The whole process was carried out in an extremely orderly fashion. It was obvious that this population was accustomed to exercising its franchise. They knew what to do, and they did it in a most commendable fashion.

The security arrangements were absolutely professional and totally commendable. It struck every one of the observers that whereas in the press and the media throughout the world, brickbats are always ready to be thrown at the police force, here were people who were not only doing their duty but going beyond the pale of duty and being extremely helpful, particularly to the infirm and physically challenged.

Perfection is an ideal to which we all aspire but which we hardly ever reach. The procedures and regulations that guided the carrying-out of the electoral process were not perfect, but it was obvious that every effort had been made to train the personnel involved in applying these regulations uniformly. Hence, the process proceeded extremely smoothly and effectively.

Having said this, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there were problems. The most difficult problem, as we were informed by political parties and citizens, was the electoral list. I explained that the Mission accepted the electoral list because we had not been involved in its creation, and the Supervisor of Elections had informed us that it had been compiled absolutely in compliance with the existing legislation. However, I must note that this was an area that had been addressed by the former observation mission.

Everyone expressed surprise that out of a population of about one hundred thousand people, the electoral list, which was supposed to be composed of people over the age of 18, had more than eighty-two thousand names. Be that as it may, it did not appear to prejudice the outcome in any way.

There is room for improving the link between the registration, the civil register, and the electoral register, and our team is making specific recommendations to this effect.

We will be making recommendations regarding the placement of the polls and arrangements at the polling stations, mainly because when you see something that is good and that can be tweaked and adjusted in little ways to make it better, I think it’s one’s duty to do this.

We were able to visit 105 out of 124 polling stations on Grenada, excluding Carriacou and Petit Martinique, so we got a really good impression of what was going on on election day. Our conclusion was that the results of the election in Grenada reflected the wishes of its population.

In addition to the recommendations in our written submission, I suggest that the Permanent Council look at a few matters that concern the operation of the UPD that could make it far more effective. On behalf of the Electoral Observation Mission, I would like to thank the funding agencies––the governments of Brazil and the United States, but for an exercise like this to be truly effective, it requires more than just deploying a group of observers. A lot of preparatory work has to be done within the Unit that makes life very difficult before the funding is actually agreed upon. You may therefore wish to consider including in your regular budget a line item that would allow the UPD to do all of this preliminary work and ensure that whatever observation mission is on the ground is totally effective. Believe me, I have been involved with this organization enough to understand the impact of the recommendation I am making, but we seek maximum effectiveness. I think you’ll find that most cost-beneficial.

Another contentious area is your National Office Directors. I know some of them are overworked, but I do not think it would burden them unnecessarily to ask that in their regular reports to head office, be it quarterly or semi-annually, they include a reference to what I would call the indicators of democracy, such as the registries, that are essential for the conduct of good elections and, of course, contribute immeasurably to the quality of democracy.

It would also be helpful if there was some institutional manner of following up recommendations adopted by the UPD as a result of these electoral missions.

I thank the Government and people of Grenada for their hospitality, openness, and general helpfulness. I thank the Supervisor of Elections, who is a most remarkable person. I am yet trying to understand how he can do that job part-time, as well as his full-time job and any number of other extracurricular activities in support of his government and the youth.

The Electoral Observation Mission was unique, individually and collectively. The members not only helped to make this mission a success, but they contributed an invaluable amount to my personal growth. I especially wish to thank Dr. Rickerson for his special guidance and for keeping my spirits up, particularly on election day.

The Director of the OAS National Office in Grenada is a gentleman whom I helped train as a young foreign service officer. I think here I’m going to take a few kudos. We hit the ground in Grenada late, so his support of the team was truly invaluable because he was able to provide everything we needed. It meant we hit the ground running, and he remained with us until we left, so this has to be recognized.

Finally, I wish to thank the Secretary General and staff for giving me the opportunity not only to be of service to the region, but to come back here even in this weather, though I take credit for bringing good weather, and being able to spend a pleasant couple of hours with you.

Thank you very much.

El PRESIDENTE: Thank you very much, Ambassador McKnight, for your detailed report.