ATTORNEYS for a Tobago East resident have given the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) seven days to reconsider its report which led to increase of electoral districts on the island from 12 to 15 – or face legal action.
The EBC was given the ultimatum after it responded to the resident’s pre-action protocol letter, which called on it to explain the methodology it used to change the electoral districts.
The EBC, acting on the proclamation of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) (Amendment) Act, recently completed its report proposing the change.
The THA has been deadlocked since January 25, 2021, when its elections ended in an unprecedented six-six tie.
The EBC order, which paves the way for fresh elections, was laid in Parliament by the Prime Minister on September 10 and passed last week by a simple majority – 21 for and 18 against.
Attorney Rhea Khan, acting on behalf of Bacolet resident June Jack-McKenzie, had written to EBC chief election officer Fern Narcis-Scope urgently requesting full disclosure on the criteria and methodology used in redrafting boundaries to create the three additional seats.
Khan said her client was not convinced an increase in electoral districts is a solution to the impasse. But even if creating 15 seats is the best option, Khan said her client wants to make sure the EBC acted lawfully and not in contravention of the THA Act.
She said the EBC’s discretion to determine boundaries is circumscribed and confined by the provisions of the THA Act Chapter 25:03.
The letter said, “We have however noted in your report the use of several factors in the exercise of your discretion in arriving at your recommendations which are not contained within the statute. Particularly, we point to paragraphs nine, ten and 11 of your report which imports into your discretion such matters as the avoidance of community fragmentation and what you term to be the unnecessary division of communities.
"While we are unsure how the use of imaginary boundaries for use in elections could create community fragmentation or unnecessary division of communities, we have found no reference to such considerations either in the statute, accompanying schedule or in the past reports of the EBC.”
Narcis-Scope responded on September 29, saying the President’s order was now law and its validity could not be questioned in any court.
On the methodology used, she said the EBC’s report made it clear the commission’s review was done in keeping with the act and submitted to the minister, showing the new electoral districts.
Narcis-Scope maintained the commission acted within the law and the Constitution and insisted it cannot be said it took into account irrelevant considerations when compiling its report.
She also rejected the view that the commission was tasked to redraft boundaries to solve a “particular problem involving two political entities,” insisting that it did its duties in accordance with its obligation prescribed by law, which was to define and review electoral boundaries, which eventually led to the increase in the number of districts from 12 to 15.
But Khan, in a response on September 31, told the CEO her explanation suggested the EBC did not take into account the “issue of preventing the fragmentation of communities and/or the breaking up of communities in the exercise of its discretion to create three new districts in Tobago.”
She said when the EBC report came to treat the creation of the three new districts, two were created “on a purely numerical basis (dividing the largest districts),” while, when creating the 15th district – Providence/Mason Hall – Moriah was bypassed.
Khan said this district, which has 4,484 voters, was sequentially the next largest district. She said the EBC instead used Goodwood/Belle Garden West, with 4,311 voters, to create a new district “on the basis that the EBC wanted to ‘avoid fragmenting communities.’
“We therefore find it surprising that you would state that the EBC ‘did not identify threats to the integrity of communities and did not embark on any determination of which communities could not be fractured’.
“Indeed, if the plain and ordinary meaning of the language of the EBC report is to be believed, then the EBC clearly did consider or purported to consider the issue of community fragmentation.”
Narcis-Scope was asked to “swiftly” reconsider the boundaries and provide another report to “rectify the obvious error” mad,e as Khan pointed out that the EBC’s report contradicted the CEO’s position on identifying threats to the integrity of the communities or determining which communities could not be fractured.
Khan asked again for disclosure of any documents, including field reconnaissance surveys or minutes.