The elections in Barbuda never fail to give us something new. As pure spectator sports, they are entertaining, nail-biting affairs that oftentimes leave observers shaking their heads at what they have just witnessed. It is part of the uniqueness and charm of Barbuda.
At the same time, the elections and issues in Barbuda are serious. They rank up there with many of the issues in Antigua and in many cases, they exceed them. And when it comes to issues, Barbudans are frank. There is no sugar coating, and political correctness is just beginning to creep into the local vernacular.
That frankness was on display when the Member of Parliament and minister responsible for Barbuda Affairs, Arthur Nibbs said that he does not consider giving gifts during election campaigning an attempt to bribe or induce the electorate to vote in favour of his party. It is an interesting perspective and one that needs to be ventilated in public. Does the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) support that view? How about the United Progressive Party (UPP)? And when does a gift become inappropriate and cross the line to become an inducement for a vote?
Before we delve into Minister Nibbs’ comments, let us reference the Act which governs this sort of stuff. It is called The Representation of the People Act (ACP. 379). In Part II of that Act, entitled ‘The Election Campaign’, there is a section (#40) that specifically deals with “Bribery”. It says, “Bribery, Treating and Undue Influence 40. (1) A person shall be guilty of a corrupt practice if he is guilty of bribery. (2) A person shall be guilty of bribery if he, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf – (a) gives any money or procures any office to or for any voter or to or for any other person on behalf of any voter or to or for any other person in order to induce any voter to vote or refrain from voting; (b) corruptly does any such act as aforesaid on account of any voter having voted or refrained from voting; or (c) makes any such gift or procurement as aforesaid to or for any person in order to induce that person to procure the return of any person at an election or the vote of any voter, or if upon or in consequence of any such gift or procurement as aforesaid he procures or engages, promises or endeavours to procure the return of any person at an election or the vote of any person at an election or the vote of any voter. For the purposes of this subsection references to giving money shall include references to giving, lending, agreeing to give or lend, offering, promising, or promising to procure or to endeavour to procure any office, place or employment.”
A bit long, but a necessary reference. Let us now examine Minister Nibbs’ statement. He said, “I don’t understand what people are saying in terms of inducement. If you go campaigning and you find there are people with basic specific needs, somebody is having a difficulty with their light bill up for disconnection, or somebody cannot meet their child school fee on time and at the same time you’re campaigning, and you are in a better off position than them, you’d walk away without assisting and still expect people to vote for you?”
We are not going to make any accusations here because we are not legal practitioners. However, some people have problems with Minister Nibbs’ description of assisting and his connection with a future expectation of a person’s vote. In response, the minister has said there is nothing “untoward” about the ABLP helping residents and dismissed the question of possible impropriety by stating, “Come on, it doesn’t have anything to do with any bribery,” while adding that “The Labour Party is known for being generous to people and to assist them. It is a need that you’re meeting. So, what I must do if it is on the eve of an election?”
This is a very important issue for our nation. A government’s job is to look for the welfare of its citizens and residents; that really is not a party’s responsibility. Plus, if there are people in such desperate need of assistance, then is that not an indictment of the party that holds the reins of power? What happens to these desperate people outside of the election campaign? Do they just suffer with their light being disconnected and their school fees being overdue until the next campaign, when the politicians stroll by and offer assistance? Does that not shift the reliance onto the politicians and away from the government?
Mr George Rick James of the Free and Fair Election League reported that he heard of efforts to induce the electorate, but he said he could not call it bribery if the people who received gifts did not complain or give evidence of being bribed. Is that really how it goes? If the people involved in bribery do not complain about receiving bribes, then it is not bribery?
There are a lot of questions that need answers so that we can all understand what a free and fair election really is. Certainly, these questions cannot be brushed aside with a casual “Come on, give me a break!”
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