Call made for changes to ROPA after election date fiasco

Call made for changes to ROPA after election date fiasco

Observer staff reporter

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

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POLITICAL commentator Martin Henry is suggesting that the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) be amended to reflect changes in modern Jamaica.

Henry made the proposition yesterday following Monday’s press release from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) which stated that the date announced for the Portland Eastern by-election has been changed from March 25 to April 4 and that nomination day has been changed from March 8 to March 15.

“This announcement supersedes that made on Friday, March 1, 2019, to take into account the public holiday of Ash Wednesday, which falls on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, and which is an ‘excluded day’ for the purpose of section 21 (1A) of the Representation of the People Act, which provides that the day appointed for Nomination Day shall be at least five clear days after the announcement of an election,” the OPM release said.

Yesterday, Henry, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer, said that Parliament has modified a number of laws and that the Representation of the People Act also needs to be addressed.

“The history is important. We got to where we are out of modelling the Westminster system in which the public holidays, especially the religious holidays — and Ash Wednesday one — would not have been counted as [workdays]. Now, we have modified a number of other laws which runs contrary to this arrangement. The Flexible Work Arrangements legislation has virtually removed the status of religious days — certainly on the weekend and possibly for public holidays,” Henry said.

“So, which direction is going to hold? The retention of religious public holidays as no-work days and no-business days, even for Government, or the more flexible arrangement that all days are equal and five continuous days would meet the requirement of the law?” he asked.

“Where things now stand is that Ash Wednesday is considered a no-business day for Government and can’t be counted in the continuous five days. Whether that will change is another matter of consideration, but I think it should change,” Henry argued.

At the same time, he said that Prime Minister Andrew Holness has found himself in an embarrassing position in announcing a date that runs contrary to constitutional requirements.

“After the hyped-up announcement on Friday, to have to pull back to a quiet announcement of a change of date, there really is no reason why the prime minister should not exercise his constitutional authority by standing up quietly in Parliament and making a two-minute announcement of the date of any election. There is no requirement in law and certainly is there any necessity in common sense for massive public meetings and the hyped-up expectation of an announcement of a date,” said Henry.

He added that an election date ought to be a routine of the functions of Government which should be announced in the place of the “people’s business” in Parliament by Holness simply making a statement in one of the sittings.

“I hope this teaches him a lesson,” Henry said.

In the meantime, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, in a news release late Monday, said the setting of new election date by Holness was an act of gross incompetence and ultimately an expression of disrespect to the Jamaican people in general and the voters of the constituency in particular.

Phillips said this unprecedented act boggles the mind as to the quality of legal advice being provided to the prime minister.

“This should never happen in any self-respecting democracy without someone being held accountable,” Phillips argued.

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