By Theresa Goodwin
For Nathaniel “Paddy” James, the past two decades at the helm of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) has not been without its share of challenges, but he will be moving on with confidence that he has left a solid legacy behind.
Within a few short weeks, James will be stepping down from the position in which he has served for 20 years. He recently submitted his retirement letter to Prime Minister Gaston Browne who holds portfolio responsibility for ABEC.
His retirement will take effect on April 5th, 2022, when he will celebrate his 75th birthday.
James, one of the country’s longest serving civil servants, spoke to Observer recently and chronicled the highs and lows of leading the independent non-partisan entity, which is charged with safeguarding Antigua and Barbuda’s electoral process.
The outgoing chairman is one of the original ABEC commissioners, having been appointed as the government’s representative at the request of then Prime Minister Sir Lester Bird. He assumed the position of chairman in 2015.
James said he turned down the initial request out of concern he was already serving on a number of boards and may not have had the time to commit. He eventually acceded to the request after being pressed to do so.
“The prime minister said the confidence he had in me in terms of the new dispensation and he could not look at anyone else at the time with the kind of independence and that is the reason why he wanted me there. He said we did not really agree on everything and I would not be afraid to tell it like it is,” he said.
Serving on ABEC was indeed very challenging James shared, as he reflected on the period after the Antigua Labour Party’s defeat and some of the changes to the electoral process that followed.
That process also resulted in him being brought before a tribunal and spending thousands of dollars to defend himself.
“That was one of the toughest and worst times. Whatever it was, it had something to do with Sir Gerald Watt and I was serving on the commission at the time. I was put before a three-panel judge and it cost me thousands of dollars from my own pocket to defend myself because the government of the day decided they were not going to pay my legal fees.”
The civil servant said he has worked hard to blot out that dark period in history and has instead tried to be “decent and upright” in his dealings with people and that he has served his country well.
In addition to his 20 years at ABEC, James has spent another 20 on different boards and in various other capacities within the civil service.
The soon to be retiree said he was done well and looked forward to spending his retirement relaxing. “I have been working hard all my life and I think it is now time for me to relax instead of having to get up early and go to work,” he added.
As for the person who may be chosen to chair ABEC, James suggested that this individual should be prepared to stand up and protect the integrity of the electoral process, regardless of which political party he or she supports, as this is “vital to our democracy”.
It is still not clear who will be James’s successor, as the Cabinet indicated last week that the person tipped to fill the position has not yet been informed and a further announcement is likely some time this week.