We would have loved to state how surprised we were at yesterday’s Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) verdict in the case of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) versus Eddy Ventose, a Commonwealth citizen from St Lucia and a professor of administrative law at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies. But how could we? We already knew the verdict even before we became aware of the hearing on Sunday to settle the dispute once and for all. And we told you so in our editorial on Friday entitled, Our Electoral Officials Must Do The Right Thing.
In an unprecedented hearing, the CCJ, which is Barbados final court, said that Mr Ventose had satisfied “the necessary legal and regulatory conditions for registration as an elector” and ordered Chief Electoral Officer Angela Taylor to “register or cause the applicant to be registered as an elector” by noon today or face imprisonment and/or a fine.
The only shock, frankly, would have been if Mrs Taylor or the EBC had been shocked, for there was no other way the court could have ruled.
There is no need to rehash what we outlined in last Friday’s editorial, except to emphasize that every Commonwealth citizen who has resided here for three years – that’s two years longer that the residency requirement in most Caribbean countries – have a constitutional and legal right to be registered to vote.
The EBC itself admitted during the Court of Appeal hearing last month that its policy that only Commonwealth citizens who hold the status of citizen, immigrant or permanent resident can register to vote, was in contravention of the Representation of People Act.
That should have ended the matter right there. Yet it continued to wilfully violate the law for reasons we still do not understand. How can a Government agency that is supposed to uphold the law do so when it openly admits to be a threat to the law? How can we have any confidence that the EBC will conduct a fair election when it chooses to deny voters their rights?
An uncomfortable truth is that too many Barbadians still do not get it that the EBC was violating the law and that the CCJ ruling was not about making us as a country look bad. Had this been the case, what do they say about the rulings of both our High Court and our Court of Appeal? All the CCJ did yesterday was to uphold those rulings, and, as Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson did, ordered the electoral management body to register Mr Ventose.
However, the waves of anger still wash at the feet of too many of us who are upset that Commonwealth nationals, many of whom have lived here for ten or 20-plus years, who make a contribution to our economy, who pass on their skills, who pay their taxes, who suffer the same sewage, and water, and potholes and cost of living issues that we suffer, have a right to vote here.
There is a need to reform this perception, along with discarding the policy to where it rightfully belongs.
From some of the comments on social media it would seem the battle to uphold their rights to register to vote has contributed to an already toxic atmosphere as the general election draws closer. Disturbingly, no one in a position of power and authority did a thing to stop it. Why, didn’t the political leadership step in to stop the EBC from making a fool of our country? Why did the EBC’s legal advisers allow the CCJ to make such a mockery of the managers of our electoral system?
But despite the uncomfortable truths, there is also the comforting reality that many of us saw the folly of the EBC’s ways and have been correcting those who do not seem to understand that our laws must be obeyed and that Barbadians enjoy similar rights in virtually every Commonwealth country. There are those who have admitted to voting in Jamaica and the United Kingdom while in those countries as students. Thousands more are eligible to vote right across the Caribbean where no one makes a fuss.
It was disheartening that Mrs Taylor was left yesterday to stand on her own on fractured limbs, the pain in her heart manifesting itself throw grimaces and frowns, all for the sake of a policy that made no sense and had no legal standing.
How isolated she must have felt when the CCJ unleashed on her the threat of jail and/or fines! How pathetic the situation created by the EBC’s own hands!
Through its folly or its misguided stubbornness – or for some other reason we simply cannot fathom – the EBC has cost the taxpayer money we can ill afford and did not have to spend, and has embarrassed our country before the entire Commonwealth of nations.
Fortunately, this case did not call for damages, nor was Mr Ventose interested in such. Otherwise we, the taxpayers, could have been forced to pay even more from our already empty pockets.
Whatever point it was trying to prove, the EBC must admit upon reflection that it did not have to come to this.