Hours after the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) made a clean sweep of all 30 seats in Parliament, newly sworn-in Prime Minister Mia Mottley promised an inquiry into the functioning of the embattled Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
Speaking to reporters this morning at Government House, minutes after she and Attorney General Dale Marshall took the oath of office before Governor General Dame Sandra Mason, the island’s first female Prime Minister pledged to take action after a thorough investigation was conducted into concerns related to the voters’ list and the inordinately long delays in getting ballot boxes to counting centres last night.
“I think that all Barbadians are concerned that what happened last night was unacceptable and it did not present well to the public. I am not going to make any judgment or pass any judgment. The truth is that it may well be as much an issue of transportation of ballot boxes and the absence of available buses…but there were also serious issues as it related to the veracity of the list…Was it a computer glitch, are there systems involved. I don’t know,” Mottley said, adding that she would seek the appropriate reports.
“You can rest assured that once those reports come, we will take action. Barbados must be known for institutions that work. Our competitive advantage as a country was having a superior public service that literally put us above other countries and allowed us to shine. We have to bring back the functioning of our public service to that level; we have to strengthen the functioning of our institutions; and we have to give opportunity to our people where necessary.”
Mottley, who was flanked by her new Attorney General and BLP general secretary Dr Jerome Walcott, was adamant that Barbados could not have an analog Government in a digital world.
The EBC released the final list of voters on the eve of yesterday’s general election, when it was required to do so at least three days before.
In the days leading up to the election, the Commission was also ordered by the High Court here and the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to register all Commonwealth citizens who were eligible to vote here. However, while some had been allowed to do so, 20 of them had to make an urgent application to the High Court on polling day because their names were not on the register in St Michael South when they went to cast their ballots.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson ruled on the matter in the afternoon, clearing the way for the petitioners to vote. They finally exercised their franchise about two hours after the official close of polling stations.
Earlier this month, the EBC had stoutly defended the integrity of the electoral process and openly dismissed allegations of discrepancies on the preliminary voters’ list of just over 256,990 people, after investigations by Barbados TODAY revealed over 500 irregularities, the majority of which affected four constituencies in St Michael.
These were St Michael South, which had been held by former Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Mottley’s St Michael North East constituency, St Michael West Central in which the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP’s) James Paul was the incumbent, and the City of Bridgetown where the BLP’s Jeffrey Bostic was seeking his second straight term.
Errors were also identified in 27 of the 30 constituencies across the island.
In all 592 cases found, voters had the same address and the same house number but ended up in different constituencies.
Mottley, whose swearing-in ceremony was witnessed this morning by her father Elliott Mottley,QC, mother Amor Mottley, brother Stuart Mottley and her sister who is visiting from Australia, eLana Amor Mottley Harris, also told reporters she will be meeting with the leadership of the Social Partners on Monday morning so they can set the framework for the country going forward.
“In the campaign I indicated that – and this is without knowing what the mandate would have been – that I would want to meet twice a month, particularly during this period of getting these mission-critical issues right with the leadership of the Social Partnership,” she stated, adding that above all else Barbados needed consensus to move forward and to talk through the difficult decisions together.
Without identifying them, Prime Minister Mottley also gave notice that her administration would review a number of contracts because of the contingent liabilities to which the Government has been exposed and to have clarity as to where the country stands.
“I hope to be able to put in place a financial discovery team so that we can get a clear picture as to the true state of the Government’s finances so that we can make decisions. We cannot fly blindly,” she noted, adding that she would also make public the report from the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) review of the economy so people can know the true state of the economy.
Mottley refused to be drawn into listing the pending construction of the controversial Hyatt Centric Resort, a matter still entangled in legal litigation, as one of the contracts to be reviewed.
She also said the full Cabinet will be announced shortly, but declined to specify its size, noting that quality was more important.
On the question of when the first opening of the new Parliament would be held, Mottley said she was looking to have the session convened in another two weeks to discuss urgent business of state.
“We are cognizant that we lost four to six weeks in the campaigning as a nation and that the serious work of Government has therefore not been ever-present over the last four to six weeks. The campaign is over and we need to get back to work,” she said.
The Prime Minister noted that her administration was now faced with 20 mission-critical matters to fix in order to stabilize the economy, failing which Barbados would experience serious consequences.
Mottley said integrity legislation would be laid in Parliament on the first working day of the legislature and pledged to introduce the Freedom of Information Bill shortly after.
She also promised regular communication with the people of Barbados, in addition to frequent media conferences and the hiring of a press secretary for the Prime Minister’s Office and one for Cabinet.
Mottley made it clear that Barbados would not be pulling out of the appellate jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice, as Stuart had threatened to do if his party was returned to power.
She recommitted this country to regional integration.
Mottley also recognized the need for the Government to honour another payment of a loan this month, as well as to address existing difficulties within the National Drug Service. (EJ)