PRESS STATEMENT: The PLP notes with great alarm the Government’s intention to retain the services of discredited Errol Bethel as Parliamentary Commissioner.
The Election Court criticized the Parliamentary Commissioner in the Pinewood case, where it was found that the egregious errors in the register threatened the “integrity of the electoral process” and “the fundamental basis of our parliamentary democracy”. The scathing criticism in the Pinewood case was sufficient in our view to (at the very least) cause the Parliamentary Commissioner to be transferred to another post. Most recently the same Parliamentary Commissioner was criticized by the Election Court in the Elizabeth case.
The Election Court in the Elizabeth case noted the Parliamentary Commissioner’s admission under oath that he “may have authorized the alteration of the voter’s oath” and the register. In plain words, the Parliamentary Commissioner may have caused to be changed a document that the voter swore to be true, without the knowledge or consent of the voter. This is so serious that it is of itself grounds for immediate transfer of the Parliamentary Commissioner.
The Election Court also found that the Parliamentary Commissioner could not lawfully remove the name of a voter from the Register. The Parliamentary Commissioner admitted that he determined that the voter’s name should be removed from the register. The Election Court said, “we find his act in removing this voter’s name from the register after its close, to be unlawful and incapable of invalidating her vote.”
The Election Court also determined that his actions violated the rules of natural justice. Again, the finding by the Election Court in relation to the acts mentioned above and the violation of the rules of natural justice are grounds for immediate transfer of the Parliamentary Commissioner.
In the Elizabeth case, the Parliamentary Commissioner admitted that he had a duty to continuously review the register and to make provisions for persons to transfer. The facts of the case revealed that he failed to carry out his duty.
The Election Court said, “again, this process has exposed failures, omissions and errors on the part of the Parliamentary Commissioner which may, if not corrected, threaten the fairness of the electoral process and ultimately our democracy.” This is not the first time that the Election Court made similar remarks about this holder of the office of Parliamentary Commissioner. In the Pinewood case, the Election Court said, “This case exposed the most egregious failures in the parliamentary registration system. The Parliamentary Commissioner failed, for whatever reason, to ensure the integrity of the registration process in Pinewood.”
The PLP, like thousands of Bahamians, do not have confidence in the holder of the Office of Parliamentary Commissioner. We note that the FNM has forced or is about to force into compulsory retirement scores of skilled and competent Bahamians, including very senior police officers and long serving and loyal ZNS employees, who, unlike the Parliamentary Commissioner, have no judicial findings impugning their competence, but the FNM intends to retain Mr. Bethel.
We agree that the fairness of the electoral process and our democracy is under threat. But despite this the FNM intends to retain Mr. Bethel. We believe that the holder of the Office of Parliamentary Commissioner should be beyond reproach and also beyond the appearance of reproach. Unfortunately, despite the statements of the Election Court and the admissions of Mr. Bethel, the FNM doggedly intends to retain Mr. Bethel in the same way the Prime Minister refused to accept the resignation of the Minister of the Environment. The current Parliamentary Commissioner should be transferred, in the public interest, and a new and competent Parliamentary Commissioner appointed so as to ensure the integrity of the registration process and of the register.