Chairman of the Antigua & Barbuda Electoral Commission Juno Samuel, in a wide-ranging interview with Caribarena, dealt frankly with challenges facing ABEC in the run-up to the general elections constitutionally due in 2014.
The ABEC chairman identified philosophical differences between members of the Commission as the most critical of these challenges. Samuel maintains that the continuing uncertainty over the ultimate position of former chairman – now ordinary member – Sir Gerald Watt has not in any way hindered the Commissioners’ approach to their work.
However, he pinpoints the philosophical divide over the powers and proper functioning of the chairman in particular as posing a significant – if not preponderant – obstacle to progress.
A three-to-two division exists among the commissioners over the extent to which the chairman may exercise administrative authority over the functioning of the electoral office, and therefore over the Supervisor of Elections in her several roles as Supervisor of Elections, Chief Executive Officer of the Elections Office, Chief Registration Officer and Chief Elections Officer. This division has been brought to a head over the first six months of this year by a continuing disagreement over the transfer of some employees of ABEC and the chairman’s assignment of certain duties to another.
The conflict of opinion over these matters has significantly slowed the rate at which the commission has dealt with its work, as an inordinate amount of time has been spent in debating what the chairman regards as matters peripheral to the core functions of ABEC.
As a result, Samuel is determined that no more valuable time should be devoted to the issues of transfers, secondments, or assignments of duties, as these matters are now in the hands of competent authorities. If these issues continue to divert the commissioners’ attention, there will be a real risk of ABEC failing to complete essential preparations for the 2014 elections in a timely manner. Such an outcome would be disastrous: and the ABEC Chairman is determined that the unfortunate events of 2009 will not re-occur under his watch.