President of the Clement Payne Movement David Comissiong has urged authorities to make the prevention of vote buying a national priority ahead of upcoming general elections.
In fact, he is challenging the island’s two main political parties – the Democratic Labour Party and the Barbados Labour Party to immediately introduce a bill in Parliament to amend the Election Offences and Controversies Act to address the vexing issue.
In a strong statement, the social activist warned that “the exchange of hundred dollar bills for votes” had become a standard practice in general elections in Barbados and across the region and if the practice was not brought to an end, it would eventually “totally destroy the public or civic life of our nations.”
Comissiong, an attorney at law, pointed out that under the Election Offences and Controversies Act (Chapter 3 of the Laws of Barbados) both the buyer of the vote and the seller of the vote are guilty of having committed a “corrupt practice”.
He however expressed concern that the Act fails to stipulate that offenders are to be fined or imprisoned – except in the very limited and restricted case of persons who indulge in activity on the public road or in a public place, on Election Day (during the hours that the poll is open), and within 100 yards of a polling station.
Comissiong argued this was grossly inadequate and changes “to attach the penalty of a fine and a period of imprisonment for anyone found guilty of the corrupt practice of bribery, whenever and wherever that offense may be carried out during the entire official period of an election campaign” were needed.
“This – needless-to-say – needs to be done as a matter of urgency, so that we can provide our Royal Barbados Police Force with the legal instruments that they require in order to properly police the upcoming General Elections and ensure that vote buying and selling is not a feature of these 2018 Elections.”
He proposed that the Royal Barbados Police Force put together a number of motorized “flying squads” in marked and unmarked police vehicles to carry out rapid anti-vote buying surveillance missions in relevant communities during the last week of campaigning and on Polling Day in particular.
Comissiong warned that the practice of vote buying has resulted in a sizable proportion of young Barbadians losing respect for men, women and institutions that are supposed to provide national leadership and this was likely to have serious consequences.
“When a critical mass of a population lose respect for the men, women and institutions that are supposed to provide national leadership, the nation is lost!,” Comissiong said. .