Stop it!

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On the eve of expected parliamentary debate on a bill to amend the Representation of the People Act, an opposition parliamentarian, two prominent businessmen, and a retired educator/prominent trade unionist have issued calls for decisive action to stamp out the reportedly growing problem of vote-buying in general elections.

In separate cases, St James North parliamentary representative, Edmund Hinkson, and leading supermarket operator Andrew Bynoe together with former Chamber of Commerce president Andy Armstrong, and retired Lodge School teacher and Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) leader, Patrick Frost, issued the calls in the last 24 hours.

David frost

David frost

andy armstrong

andy armstrong

“Vote buying threatens the moral authority and corrupts legitimacy of our democratic way of life,” Bynoe, Armstrong and Frost said in a joint statement today. “Vote buying or bribery is already proscribed under Section 6 and 7 of the Election Offences and Controversies Act, Cap 3 as a corrupt practice. We are asking our representatives to respect this and, furthermore, strengthen this legislation by making it less difficult to prosecute persons under this law,” the trio added.

Addressing a meeting of the St James South constituency branch of the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) last night, Hinkson, an attorney-at-law, questioned why there was no provision against vote-buying in measures down on the order for tomorrow’s first sitting of the House of Assembly following the summer recess.

Besides the bill to amend the Representation of the People Act, the House is tomorrow expected to consider the National Registration Bill which is also election-related.

“On the night of the (2013 general) election, we had a situation where the Prime Minister and the Attorney General both saying yes, there was vote-buying today,” Hinkson reminded the audience at the West Terrace Primary School. Recalling in particular Stuart’s election night vow to deal with the problem, Hinkson asked: “Have you (subsequently) heard any issues raised among the corridors of government on the issue of vote buying?”

He went on: “We politicians have to draw a line in the sand. There are some things for which a line should be drawn in the sand and political parties have to agree on, because you can’t continue like this, where people calling you on Election Day and saying, ‘Mr Politician, I got 10 votes here for you, but $2,000 [is to be paid].”

In their statement, Bynoe, Armstrong and Frost said because of a deficiency in the existing legislation, even if it can be proved that sums of money were passed at election time, it would be still impossible to prosecute unless it can be proved that there was a guilty intent.

The trio urged lawmakers to look at how this can be amended to be more of a deterrent and called on the leaders of both political parties to use the opportunity tomorrow to make a public statement condemning vote buying.

Hinkson said he had heard of vote buying in St James during the 2013 general election, with $70,000 mentioned as the sum being used in Haynesville alone on the afternoon of the poll. Hinkson said he was also told of money being used in his constituency to influence voters but he was not worried.

Elaborating on the statement, Bynoe, managing director of A1 and Emerald City Supermarkets, told Barbados TODAY: “We would wish that both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition would give some serious thought to what it is we are aiming to achieve in Barbados.

“We are asking that where the Act says that it would be impossible to prosecute unless it could be proved that there was a guilty intent, that this flaw would be recognized and dealt with. I hope that the legislation would be amended so that persons who seek to corrupt Barbados’ electoral system could be flushed out.”

Armstrong, who is marketing director of Armstrong Agencies Ltd, said: “We have been advised that the law is well written, but the challenge for the law is that it is not enough to prove that you passed money to someone, you have to prove guilty intent.”

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