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Sunday, 21 January 2018 22:56

David Commissiong: Lock up Vote Buyers Featured

By David Commissiong

The exchange of hundred dollar bills for votes has now become a standard practice in Barbadian general elections, and if this corrupt practice is not brought to an end it will eventually totally destroy the public or civic life of our nation!

Over the past two General Elections (2008 and 2013) a distinct practice has emerged in which politicians and their henchmen descend upon working-class communities and seek to bribe electors - particularly young men and women - with hundred dollar bills.

This corrupt practice has resulted in thousands of young Barbadians forming the impression that many, if not most, politicians - including some men and women who get elected to Parliament and some of those who go on to hold ministerial office - are no more than tawdry hustlers and con-men!

In other words, the people of our country are rapidly losing respect for the men and women who are supposed to be their national leaders. And when a critical mass of a population lose respect for the men, women and institutions that are supposed to provide national leadership, the nation is lost!

Furthermore, the vile practice of vote buying is gradually and sedulously stripping many of our youth of their idealism and moral values, and is also threatening to subvert the integrity of our electoral system , and by extension, our entire system of governance.

And so, the prevention of vote buying must now be viewed as a national priority !

Barbados does have an Election Offences And Controversies Act (Chapter 3 of the Laws of Barbados), which proscribes vote buying and deems it to be a "corrupt practice". Indeed, Section 6 of the Election Offences and Controversies Act provides as follows : -

  •  A person is guilty of a corrupt practice who is guilty of bribery.
  •  A person is guilty of bribery who, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf (a) gives any money..... to any elector or to...any other person on behalf of any order to induce any elector to vote or refrain from voting ;
  • Any elector is guilty of bribery who, before or during an election, directly or indirectly by himself or by any other person on his behalf, receives, agrees to receive, or contracts for any money, gift, loan, or valuable consideration...for voting or agreeing to vote or for refraining or agreeing to refrain from voting "

So, according to the Election Offences and Controversies Act both the buyer of the vote and the seller of the vote are guilty of having committed a "corrupt practice".

Unfortunately, however, there is a big deficiency in the Election Offences and Controversies Act! And it is that , having deemed this reprehensible behaviour to be a "corrupt practice", the Act does not go on to stipulate that offenders are to be fined or imprisoned - except in the very limited and restricted case of persons who indulge in this corrupt practice on the public road or in a public place, on Election Day (during the hours that the poll is open), and within 100 yards of a polling station.

But, as we all know, vote buying goes on not only on Election Day, and not only in public spaces that are within 100 yards of a polling station! In fact very little vote buying takes place within 100 yards of polling stations on Election Day, since that stretch of public space is always well policed by officers of the Royal Barbados Police Force and other electoral personnel. Rather, the bulk of vote buying takes place in the gaps and side-roads of communities, and well away from the prying eyes of officials stationed at polling stations. Furthermore, those intent on buying votes don't wait until Election Day to start practicing their dirty craft!

The drafters of the Election Offences and Controversies Act used the said Act to proscribe several other illicit actions, and had no difficulty attaching fines and periods of imprisonment (ranging from three months to two years) for the commission of these other illicit acts. Why then did they think it necessary to avoid imposing fines and terms of imprisonment on persons guilty of vote buying, except in the most restricted of circumstances?

Indeed, outside of the restricted circumstances described above, commission of the corrupt practice of "bribery" only has consequences for the election candidate who instigated and profited from it. The Act stipulates that such a candidate may have votes taken away from his tally, and - in certain circumstances - may be deprived of a seat that he "won".

In light of the foregoing, I now wish to publicly challenge the thirty members of the House of Assembly and their political parties - the DLP and the BLP - to take immediate steps to introduce a Bill in parliament to amend the Election Offences and Controversies Act in order to attach the penalty of a fine and a period of imprisonment for anyone found guilty of the corrupt practice of bribery, whenever and wherever that offense may be carried out during the entire official period of an election campaign.

This - needless-to-say - needs to be done as a matter of urgency, so that we can provide our Royal Barbados Police Force with the legal instruments that they require in order to properly police the upcoming General Elections and ensure that vote buying and selling is not a feature of these 2018 Elections.

Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith and the senior officers of the Royal Barbados Police Force should be putting together a number of motorized "flying squads" in marked and unmarked Police vehicles to carry out rapid anti-vote buying surveillance missions in all relevant communities during the last week of campaigning and on Polling Day in particular. But any such efforts on the part of the Police need to be supported with legislation that allows the Police to properly prosecute apprehended offenders.

It is time that we lock up a few of these vote buyers !

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