As if months-long internal warfare was not enough, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is mired in fresh controversy over the election of Kimberly Agard as president amid exceptionally low turnout on Thursday.
At around 7:30 p.m., Agard was declared the winner with 393 votes, with her only challenger, Fabian Jones amassing just 183. Her entire team that included the candidates for 1st Vice President, Charles Bostic, 2nd Vice President, O’brien Smith and Treasurer, Roy Greenidge also secured their positions on the union’s Executive Council by convincing margins.
But mere moments after the results were made public, the losing candidate for the top position immediately voiced numerous concerns about the “integrity” of the vote and called for an urgent review of the election and a possible do-over.
He claimed that numerous allies of a particular candidate dominated the election process and that there was an absence of transparency, even in the tallying process that, in his opinion, was more secretive when compared with previous years.
“Additionally, today I received hard evidence of an intention by some to ensure a certain outcome which does not favour me,” Jones told Barbados TODAY.
“I have communicated my concerns to the Acting General Secretary up until this point and early in the count, and if certain corrective measures would have been taken or implemented to ensure more transparency, I would have had no issue with this outcome.
“With that being said, I hope that as soon as possible, the conditions can be created for me to sit down with the union’s administration and be able to review all election materials so that a comprehensive cross-examination can be done so as to rule out any discrepancies, whether by human act or omission, and should any be found, I am calling for a complete do-over with persons whose objectivity cannot be so easily questioned.”
But Acting General Secretary Wayne Waldron declared that so far there had been no evidence of foul play, although he promised to investigate Jones’ claims vigorously if more evidence became available.
He also vouched for the honesty and integrity of the people assigned to the 14 polling stations and expressed confidence that the rules of fairness and transparency were adhered to.
“It is not enough to say that you are unhappy and it is not enough to make allegations,” said Waldron. “We will have to see the evidence.”
“Clearly, if there is evidence, obviously it would be justified to look at the process and review the process, but we cannot operate on emotions, we cannot operate on innuendo and therefore I have not seen any evidence to suggest that the results were not fair.
“I have not seen any evidence to suggest that people did not freely vote of their free choice and free mind. I have not seen any evidence that there was not an open and fair democratic process where persons were able to choose and have freedom of choice in the person they were voting for, and therefore emotions and innuendo will not be sufficient and cannot be used as evidence,” Waldron added.
From the muted turnout and the post-election drama, the mood shifted to celebration for the declared winner and a handful of supporters at the NUPW’s Dalkeith, St Michael headquarters. As she thanked those who had stood behind her and her team, Agard praised the organisation’s democratic process.
“Even if they did not vote for me they still had faith and confidence in the democratic process established within NUPW, a process of integrity,” the president-elect told reporters.
“And so, my brothers and sisters, I ask you to join me in the next two years as we work assiduously to bring the NUPW back to the place of respect where it duly deserved to be. The work is now about to begin. We now have a hard test ahead of us, but we know that we are fit for purpose and we will do what we have to do to bring NUPW back to the place that it should be.”
For weeks, the entire election process had been shrouded in controversy that included then president Akanni McDowall seeking an injunction from the court after being suspended ahead of a prior election date.
The court had ordered that he be reinstated as a member and be allowed to contest the polls, but McDowall later dropped out of the race, citing political interference.
The turnout on Thursday fell to around 500 voters compared to the 1 300 that is usually expected out of a union roll that surpasses 6 500 members.
Acting General Secretary Waldron maintained that the election delays and overall COVID-19 environment were more responsible for the paltry numbers than disenchantment from the ongoing issues.
He said: “You will get controversy where one or two individuals raise issues that get contentious and once they get into the public domain it is categorised as in-fighting, but sometimes it’s just a difference of individuals or opinions that gets out into the public domain and then you hear that the entire organisation is internal, but I don’t see the NUPW as being in any turmoil.” ([email protected])