Media Center



November 22, 2019 - Washington, DC

Secretary General, Distinguished Ambassadors, Colleagues, friends, I wish to express the appreciation of the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica for the convening of this Special Permanent Council meeting and for allowing me to address you this afternoon.

Since the matter of our upcoming elections has been raised in this Chamber, we thought it prudent to meet with you and present our response. I crave your indulgence as I set out what may be a somewhat lengthy exposition of the steps that the Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica has taken on the issue of electoral reform, but it is necessary to provide to you the facts.

At the OAS General Assembly in Colombia in June this year, I spoke to the Assembly about concerns which we had in respect of statements made by the Secretary General of the OAS, based on statements made to him by opposition elements from Dominica which sought to prejudge our electoral process and call into question the freeness and fairness of our election.

I made the point then that we are also cognisant that the OAS can play an important role on issues of human rights and democracy. Central to that process is that Member States must have confidence that the OAS Secretariat headed by the Secretary General, will act in an impartial manner with due regard for its role as representing the interests of Member States.

In recent times we have had the occasion to be concerned about actions/decisions taken by the OAS on certain matters which depart from what we consider to be established practice and which we think calls into question whether the OAS Charter and the rules of the Organisation are being breached.

We are equally concerned by public pronouncements made by the Secretary General which displays bias, disregard for Governments of Member States and which calls into question his role and by extension, the Organisations’ role as an honest broker.

We have written to the Secretary General, about our concerns about statements made in respect of our elections in the manner that was done and we have not yet had the courtesy of a response, or been engaged in respect of this matter.

We expect from this Organization, that when statements are made on behalf of the membership or by the directing mind of this Organisation, that it will be fair and balanced, having regard to all of the facts.

Since attaining political independence in 1978, Dominica has conducted credible elections that have resulted in the peaceful transition of power from one political party to the next.

The elections on December 6th, are being held under the same electoral laws which have governed Dominica’s free and fair elections and democratic process for the last 40 years. Both the current Labour Government and the UWP Opposition, have been elected through this exact process and under these same laws.

It is this same process and these same laws, that saw the United Workers Party increase its seat count in the last general elections in Dominica and also its share of the popular vote.

The Labour party Government was the first Government to invite electoral observers to the country. In 2009 and 2014, this included an invitation to the OAS. These elections were pronounced credible by all the election observers.

Recommendations were also made for areas where the system could be strengthened. This included recommendations for the introduction of identification cards to be made mandatory for voting and the revision and updating of the Register of Electors. These recommendations were made not because there was fraudulent voting, in fact the reports acknowledge that there has never been a recorded case of fraudulent voting in Dominica. These were merely recommendations for strengthening the system.

We accepted the recommendation to enhance our electoral system and since 2013 we have been working towards the implementation of recommended reforms to make it mandatory to use identification cards for voting and to ensure that we can have a more accurate Register of Electors.

All of the requirements set out and the funding requested by the Electoral Commission have been made available to it in a timely manner. The Commission has indicated to the public since 2016, that all it requires in order to move forward is the legislative authority. The attempts to bring this legislation to Parliament has been violently resisted by opposition elements.

The Electoral Commission requested and received the support of an expert from the Commonwealth Secretariat to guide them on electoral matters. That expert reviewed the draft legislation and apart from reservations expressed on provisions of the Bills, which have since been removed, found that the process for confirmation of electors and revision of the Register, met the standards of international best practice. We have not been able to move forward because of misinformation and half-truths being circulated by the opposition on this matter and their encouragement to others to engage in civil disturbance. The Government is of the view that what has been proposed, is the best course of action to achieve the reforms that have been recommended.

In the absence of achieving consensus and in the interest of ensuring that citizens got the widest possible opportunity to discuss the issues and to have the benefit of the input from persons who can bring an outside perspective to bear on the issues, the Government took the decision to invite a joint mission to Dominica to meet with the Government, the Electoral Commission, political parties and other stakeholders to discuss these issues.

They were asked to make recommendations on the best way to implement the reforms to introduce identification cards for the purpose of voting and to revise the Register of Electors, to ensure that the confidence of the general public could be reposed in the decisions taken to move the electoral process forward.

This was a continued expression of the government’s efforts to ensure that on a sensitive matter like this one, that there was complete transparency and that every opportunity was given to the public to discuss the issues in a mature and rational manner.

Despite our reservations on the objectivity and impartiality of the OAS, we invited the OAS to be part of a good offices joint mission, along with CARICOM and the Commonwealth Secretariat. The Joint Mission produced a report in August this year to which I shall return later.

It bears noting that the purpose of election observation is to ensure that the will of the people has been respected and that the elected government is legitimate. Other notable and welcomed purposes of election observation to which the Commonwealth of Dominica subscribes, is to support the strengthening of the electoral and governance systems through the consideration where appropriate and reasonably possible, of election observation recommendations. These recommendations are in no way binding on a country nor, I daresay, are they intended to be.

Notwithstanding this, the government signalled its intention as far back as 2013 to implement recommendations for the introduction of identification cards to be used for voting.

The Government of Dominica was decisively elected on the 8th of December 2014, five years ago, winning 15 of the 21 seats in Parliament. Members will recall that during this ONE electoral cycle 2014-2019, Dominica suffered the devastating and debilitating impact of two natural disasters in 2015 and then again in 2017, that caused the loss of life of 85 people, wiped out the equivalent of 90% and 226% of our GDP respectively and brought the country to a grinding halt. 300% loss of GDP in less than two years.

Notwithstanding the significant challenges of the displacement of two entire villages, the destruction and damage to schools, health centres, government buildings, businesses, damage to 90% of our housing stock, the wipe out of our agriculture sector, damage to tourism sites and infrastructure, the islandwide loss of all electricity, water and other utilities, this Government remained committed to implementing the introduction of ID cards and the consequent revision of the Register of Electors or Voters List, as its interchangeably called.

This is at a time when any reasonable person would have understood the need to reprioritise and direct all financial resources and energies to the rebuilding process.

In 2016 the Government had proposed Draft Legislation to enhance and strengthen the legal framework to enable the issuance of voter ID cards and the revision of the Register of Electors. This Legislation having received the comments from the Electoral Commission was submitted to the Parliament for consideration. Parliamentary debate is the primary and key platform for elected political actors to discuss matters in a transparent manner.7 The Draft Legislation consisting of the Registration of Elector’s Amendment Act 2017 and the House of Assembly (Elections) Amendment Act 2017 were due to be debated by the Parliament in 2017 when persons called to protest outside Parliament by the opposition, breached Police barricades and attempted to storm the Parliament. The Police had to intervene to control the situation.

This resulted in the Bills not being debated and the premature adjournment of the Parliament.

At the time, the objection that the opposition expressed was with the provisions in the Bills that dealt with the issue of bribery and treating. These provisions sought to codify what the Courts, in numerous decisions in the Commonwealth Caribbean, had pronounced constituted and did not constitute bribery and treating. Since there was such violent opposition to those provisions, the Bills were revised and those provisions removed, at which time, the Leader of the Opposition is on public record saying, and I quote, “The news now is that the Government will no longer pursue the amendments to the House of Assembly (Elections) Act that involved tampering with the provisions for criminalizing bribery and treating in elections.

So they have taken out those amendments.

But they’re coming back with some other things, which, as far as I'm concerned are good, and will work, for the benefit of upgrading the legislation to the new environment we’ll be voting with ID cards on.” The Leader of the Opposition subsequently reversed his position on this and renewed his opposition to the Bills.

It is worth pointing out that in 2017 the Electoral Commission requested technical assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat. This is in accordance with the practice that the Commonwealth employs in engaging member countries and their citizens in respectful discussions about providing support to implement recommendations from election observations.

A delegation from the Commonwealth Secretariat visited Dominica twice in 2017 and met with all stakeholders, including the opposition. The Commonwealth assigned an independent expert one of the best in the English speaking Caribbean who has been instrumental in best practice developed in Jamaica, to examine among other things, the Government’s proposed legislation, taking into account international best practice and the position of all stakeholders, including the Opposition.

The Independent Electoral Legal Expert delivered her report entitled, “Report on Review of Election Law in the Commonwealth of Dominica”. The proposals to enable the issuance of Voter ID cards were deemed acceptable by the legal expert. Noting the advice from the Expert that were critical of the same proposals objected to by the opposition, those proposals were removed from the Bills. The independent Expert subsequently reviewed the amended draft Bills and submitted an Addendum to that Report.

In her Addendum to the Report entitled “Addendum to Legal Consultant’s Report on Review of Election Law”, the Election expert/Consultant, highlighted the fact that the confirmation of electors and process for issuance and use of national ID cards as set out in the bills, provides for a full reverification/confirmation process which gave effect to recommendations of Observers, and reflected international best practices.

There ought to be no doubt therefore, that under the draft bills put forward by the Government, that if a person fails to apply to be confirmed, or is not able to satisfy the Electoral Office that he or she in fact has been present in Dominica for any period in the immediately preceding five years, that person will not be confirmed. Consequently, that person’s name as well as everyone who fails to apply to be confirmed, will not appear in the new Register, on the new Voter’s List, following the confirmation process.

The Election expert/Consultant reviewed the proposed new sections 30 and 31 of Registration of Electors (Amendment) Act. At pages 22 and 23 of her Addendum Report this is what she wrote, (and I quote):

“Comments and Observations
The insertion of this new section 30 is critical to the achievement of a voter’s register which reflects the voting population with some degree of accuracy and correctness. Coupled with proper administrative and other guidelines from the Commission, the achievement of the creation of an acceptable voter’s register can become a short to medium term objective of the Commission. This amendment fulfils one of the important recommendations made in the earlier report for a full reverification/reconfirmation exercise. The amendment, requires verification of the electors living overseas at embassies, missions and at other places as designated by the Commission. In order to achieve this overseas verification, wide scale logistic planning will be required. There are several countries that have successfully implemented similar programmes from which the Commission may seek to adopt best practices and lessons learned. Case in point the Dominican Republic employed Voting Coordinators to operate overseas to effect registration. Mexico adopted a similar approach as is being suggested. It means therefore that there are several international cases best practices that the Commission may rely on in order to inform itself how best to give effect to section 31. Such an exercise if not managed and administered properly can become a logistic nightmare. There are examples of jurisdiction where overseas registration was poorly managed and the exercise had to be eventually abandoned.

The Electoral Commission may wish to seek further assistance in this regard from the breadth of existing Commonwealth expertise.’
End quote!

Significantly, and it is worth repeating, the Consultant also said in her Addendum Report,

“This amendment (for the confirmation process) fulfils one of the important recommendations made in the earlier report for a full reverification/reconfirmation exercise.”

The Revised Bills provided for a confirmation process for registered electors which would be conducted locally and in major population centres to allow for as wide a cross section of Dominican citizens as possible, to participate in the confirmation process. The Opposition insisted that confirmation should only be done locally which would have disenfranchised thousands of Dominicans who for one reason or the other would not have been able to return to Dominica to be confirmed.

Alternatively, they proposed a reregistration process which would involve scrapping the existing list and reregistering every voter again. Apart from this being in contravention of Section 7 of the Registration of Electors Act, this also would have had the effect of disenfranchising legitimate citizens who once removed from the List in this manner could only get back on by returning to Dominica and residing in a constituency for a minimum period of three months. These options were not acceptable to the Government and could never be supported.

In 2018, these Revised Bills were resubmitted to the Parliament for consideration and the Government simultaneously continued with its consultations. Calls for electoral reform continued with a stubborn refusal to recognise that legislative changes had to be made and that the Draft Legislation proposed by the Government would have achieved exactly what the Opposition said that it wanted.

In September 2018, the Bills as amended were submitted to Parliament for the second time. Before the Parliament sat to deliberate on the Bills, an application was also filed in the Court alleging that the Bills were unlawful and or in breach of the Constitution and seeking an injunction to prevent the Bills being debated in Parliament.

The Government had a majority in Parliament and in effect could have pushed through the Legislation. However with continued threats of violence and resistance to all overtures to progress the Legislation that would allow for the issuance of voter ID cards and a revision of the Register, and the filing of the court matter, the Government took the responsible decision to continue the process of dialogue and consultations and withdrew the Bills from Parliament a second time. The Government further decided to invite to Dominica the Joint Special Mission consisting of CARICOM, the OAS and the Commonwealth, to use its good offices in an attempt to resolve the impasse.

I will come to the recommendations of the Joint Mission Report but I pause here to say that it was unfortunately and erroneously stated in the OAS Permanent Council two days ago that the Prime Minister of Dominica has “moved forward the election date”. One cannot move forward a date that has not been set. The Prime Minister announced last October that he would be calling elections within 100 days. The Constitution of Dominica empowers the Prime Minister to call elections at any time, subject to a five year limitation.

This power is recognised by all parties in Dominica.

I should explain for those Members not familiar with our Parliamentary system of democracy that our election cycle is a period of five years. There is no fixed date for elections and the Prime Minister is empowered by the Constitution to call elections at any time, but he must not exceed the time limit specified in the Constitution.

The last elections in Dominica were held on the 8th of December, 2014. While this years’ election will be two days short of five years since the last election, our Constitution provides that the effective date for counting five years, is the first sitting of Parliament, which in this case took place in February 2015.

If elections were not previously called, our Parliament would have in any case, by law, been dissolved in February 2020 and elections would then have to be held within three months of the dissolution of Parliament.

Now as pertains to the Joint Mission Report – On the matter of updating the Voter’s List or the Register of Electors, the Joint Mission recommended that the authorities consider conducting a house to house re-verification exercise across the entire island. They urged the Electoral Commission to determine a schedule and assess the resources required to complete such an exercise including the human and financial resources and other actions that may be necessary such as the collection of photographs, fingerprints and other data as may be agreed.

This point is significant because the Joint Mission also said that it, “Notes the difference of opinion as to whether new legislation is required to facilitate the production and issuance of photo identification cards. In keeping with what has been done in other jurisdictions, it is recommended that the Legislation be amended to broaden the authority of the Electoral Commission to collect and use electors biometric data and thereafter to issue photo identification cards.” The Mission also concluded that persons who were not verified would have to remain on the List in order not to disenfranchise voters. The complete recommendations are contained in the Joint Report which has been circulated and made available to the public.

One should note that the report states that, “The three areas identified for reform, even though viewed separately are interconnected. The completion of the reverification exercise is a necessary undertaking which must precede the production and issuing of identification cards”.

I point out to you that the Joint Mission also said that, “The timing of electoral reform is critical and that best practice and international experience show that the earlier in the electoral cycle that electoral reform is considered and implemented, the better”. The Mission also said, “An unsuccessful attempt at reform could have serious consequences”.

Since 2017, the required Legislation has been stymied through real violence and threats of violence.

The recommendations of the Mission were properly considered and the Attorney General provided a response to it that explained in detail what the Government’s concerns were with the recommendations.

This included that a house to house verification is not permissible under our elections laws. Even if that house to house verification exercise was conducted, the Joint Mission indicated that anybody not verified would have to remain on the List, which means at the end of a massive and costly exercise, we would still have had a List that was not properly updated.

The Joint Mission further acknowledged that in order for bio data to be collected from electors for the production of ID cards, legislative amendment was necessary. This has always been the position of the Government, and so if the house to house verification had been able to be conducted without the legislation, it would mean a duplication of efforts and costs and the Electoral Commission would then have to go back to all voters a second time to collect their bio data for ID cards.

Ignoring for the moment the right of the Prime Minister to call elections at any time, the recommendations for a verification exercise were being made six months before the Constitution provided that the Parliament would in any event have to be dissolved for an election to be held.

I have thought it necessary to restate the facts here, because sometimes it appears that facts do not matter, however the facts must be stated for the record, so that when some may be prone to rush to judgment, and where there is the circulation of fake news, and where there is the sensationalisation of innocuous events, it is important that the facts, and not conjecture, half-truths and downright lies are accepted. We have circulated documents which speak to those facts. All of these facts can be independently verified by you.

I repeat those facts for you: -

  1. The Government is in favour of the revision of the Voter’s List/Register of Electors and the introduction of Voter ID Cards.
  2. Without this, the same system that exist today, has returned credible elections in every election over the last 40 years and no reason has been advanced why it cannot again do so.
  3. There is no reported case of fraudulent voting in Dominica.
  4. The Government has put forward Legislation that has been independently confirmed as meeting international best practice, and if it is implemented would result in a full revision of the Voter’s List and the introduction of Voter’s ID Cards.
  5. That the Opposition in Dominica has refused to accept that Legislation, on what we consider to be spurious and unjustifiable grounds.
  6. That the Electoral Commission has been provided, at great expense I might add, with everything that it has requested to implement the Legislation.

I inform this Permanent Council that the Government of Dominica has no legal obligation to invite Electoral Observers to Dominica to observe its elections, however it has chosen nevertheless, in the interest of transparency and good governance, to extend invitations to CARICOM, the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the Carter Center, to observe and to participate in its electoral process.

We note the suggestion that the OAS should be invited to observe the election, and we also note that there are countries in this hemisphere that have chosen not to invite the OAS to observe their elections, including some of the most recent concluded elections of some of our Member States around this table.

We trust that Members are not impugning the ability of these esteemed bodies to capably and fairly, impartially and competently carry out their mission.

Notwithstanding our reservations and having conversed with the Secretary General and some of the Member States, we remain open to dialogue with the OAS in respect of its participation in the next general elections.

We, therefore, call on the Organisation of American States to denounce acts of violence in these and any elections and to call on those who seek to take power through violence and civil disorder to cease their undemocratic practices. We also call on the OAS to urge countries and organisations to refrain from making statements that can be viewed as attempts to interfere in the electoral process of our country.

We also register our concern that there would be a suggestion to Member States of our Organisation that if a country does not implement recommendations, that is made to it by the OAS, that that country cannot have free and fair elections.

Unfortunately, maybe all Member States around this table would be caught by that statement and maybe perhaps it is time for some introspection. We have a saying in the Caribbean that before you try to take out the speck in your neighbours’ eye you should take out the speck in your eye first.

Friends, colleagues, there is much more that I could say on this matter, unfortunately I fear that I have already taken up too much of your time. In speaking to you today I have tried to contain my sense of outrage and incredulity, at what I consider are completely unjustified attempts by the Opposition and opposition elements in Dominica to provoke civil disturbance and the breakdown of law and order in the country. A country that the Labour Party Government has worked very hard, especially over these last two years, to bring back from the brink of despair and desolation after that monster category five Hurricane Maria tried to rip us apart. People are building back their lives and businesses and the country is moving forward with its resilience agenda, to serve as a model for the Caribbean and other small island developing states.

Since the storm, with the help of our many friends and partners, many of you around this table, have helped us to get back on our feet, assisting us with relief and recovery, with establishing our climate resilience agency, our agriculture, our human resource development, committed to assist with rebuilding schools, worked to rehouse and repair homes and in so many other areas. The Government has rebuilt roads and bridges, we have put hundreds of families in climate resilient homes, we have improved our health systems, we have repaired and renovated schools, we have maintained our social programmes that provide support to the needy and vulnerable. The country is on the road to see growth of 9% this year - above the region’s average. This is the record that the Government will stand on to face the electorate of Dominica and on which the Labour Party will be judged.

So we appeal to Members of this Council to have regard to all of the facts that we have laid on this table, to continue to uphold the proud principles that we all espouse of respect for the sovereignty of nations, respect of the Rule of Law and non-interference in the internal affairs of States and to uphold the tenets of the Charter of these OAS States.

There is no perfect system for elections but we give you every assurance that this Government has been and remains committed to the strengthening of the electoral process in Dominica and will continue to act in a prudent and reasonable manner and we ask for your indulgence in this matter.

Thank you.