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EOJ needs needs more money to be election-ready

But agency still prepping for polls

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Sunday Observer senior reporter

Sunday, October 09, 2011

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WITH speculation rife that the country could be headed to the polls sooner than expected, as the man tipped to be the new leader of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Andrew Holness, seeks his own mandate from the electorate, the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) is not waiting to get its house in order, even without the required funding.

Speaking with the Sunday Observer Friday, Director of Elections Orette Fisher said his office "is as ready as it can be, pending the release of funds".

Fisher, who said he had got no indication from the Administration as to the date for the polls, said the EOJ was, nonetheless, in a proactive mode.

He has, however, distanced himself from media reports citing requests for funding the EOJ made to the finance ministry, which added fuel to public speculation that an election was imminent.

According to Fisher, there is a process for such matters which was not allowed to reach a conclusion prior to the news reports.

"What actually happened is I wrote a letter to the Ministry of Finance about certain funds, but I did not want to speak to the press about it because I had not yet gotten a response from the Minister of Finance nor acknowledgement that they received it. But it got to the press, so there's that figure out there," Fisher said Friday.

The Sunday Observer has since learnt that the figure is $350,000 million, or a third of the approximately $1 billion which the general election is estimated to cost.

Fisher attempted to put into perspective his proactive step.

"The Electoral Office, at the end of the last general election in 2007, would not have received any monies for election except when we have a by-election. So each year we do a budget to run the office on a day-to-day basis and this is premised on the fact that nobody knows exactly when an election will be announced except, possibly, the prime minister.

"So the things we would have used in the last election, we would not have been in a position to replace them because they have not been funded since the last election... what we have been given is money to pay salaries, utilities, for voter registration and so on," he explained.

"Traditionally, historically, whenever an election is in the air, whether the prime minister thinks he is going to call an election, traditionally, what they would do is contact the Electoral Office and have some kind of dialogue where they would ask 'how are things, what do you need?' They would not indicate at any point in time when the election is going to be, they would just ask those questions and we would indicate (our readiness), and then we would be given some funds," he noted further.

"We have not had any such dialogue which was an indication to us, as far as we are concerned, that an election was not imminent, that's how we would gauge it," the Director of Elections said. He noted that with the country now constitutionally in the final year of the current administration, he thought it prudent to indicate to the Ministry of Finance what the needs would be to ensure, "that there is no crisis if, and when, the Government decides to call the election".

In the meantime, he said the EOJ already had some things ready including almost all ballot boxes needed and agreements on polling station locations.

What it doesn't have in place is vital new equipment.

"The electronic printers that we used four or five years ago are no longer supported by the manufacturers in some cases. A voter's list is 66,000 pages; we have to print four for each candidate on Nomination Day, and within eight days we have to give them lists showing the police and soldiers as opposed to the civilian listing," Fisher said.

"So we have to print lists for the polling stations and photographs in some cases, so you cannot go into an election without adequate printing equipment, it's gonna break down," he explained.

Training of election day workers is also a critical component requiring money to complete.

"To train the workers, we require funding to conduct the sessions and to do the recruitment and all that. We are talking about some 24,000 to 30,000 persons overall; so to recruit and train those persons requires some amount of funding. That money is not available to us because we have not been given money for elections itself," he said further.

"There are some things we must have prior to a full election and if we are to use the Electronic Voter Identification and Ballot Issuing System (EVIBIS), we are throwing into the mix technicians who have to be recruited and trained, because they are the ones who are going to be supporting the machines," he pointed out.

On the matter of staff, Fisher said the EOJ will need money in advance to shore up its staff complement.

He said while the office has "tried to keep in touch with past workers", some persons "are no longer available, no longer interested, or we just don't know where they are".

"So that whole recruitment drive needs some amount of funding, so that is why we would need some advance money prior to the announcement, so to speak, to put things in train so that when the announcement finally comes it's not a mad scramble," he added.

September 30 this year was the deadline for persons to be enumerated for the November 30 Voters' List. Last month the EOJ said a total of 1.6 million persons are currently on the voters' list, which is the highest it has ever been.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in a startling announcement two weeks ago said he would be giving up his position as party leader and prime minister at the JLP's annual conference slated for November. Since then Education Minister Andrew Holness has been placed front and centre ahead of five other contenders to replace Golding, fuelling expectations that with a new leader, the party would be going to the polls soon since elections are constitutionally due next year.

Since that disclosure, the Opposition People's National Party has pressed Golding to call the elections.




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