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Monday, December 22, 2003

Observation Must be Seen

The Commonwealth Observer Fluke

Dr. Lester CN Simon

Have you read the official report on the 1999 general elections in Antigua and Barbuda by the Commonwealth Observer Group? You should. When you read it, please put aside your political allegiance. Try to read it dispassionately to determine if the Group fulfilled its terms of reference. You may find that it gets a score of only 66.7%, not enough for a distinction.

The Group’s terms of reference include three essential tasks: “To determine in its own judgment whether the conditions exist for a free expression of will by the electors and if the results of the elections reflect the wishes of the people… [and] propose to the authorities…..such actions….as would assist the holding of elections”.

Regardless of your political persuasion, you must be dissatisfied when you read the conclusions and recommendations of the Group. The conclusions note that the “electoral process we observed on polling day had allowed the people of Antigua and Barbuda to freely express their will at the polls…” So far, one out of three (33.3%). Remember, the judgement is that of the Group, not anyone else’s. Put your political persuasion aside.

In addition, the Group pens a long list of recommendations, a number of which are “in line with those contained in the Supervisor of Elections’ report on the 1994 general election”. So far the Group gets two out of three, with no extra points for “cogging”.

Strangely, the report does not issue a single word about whether “the results of the elections reflected the wishes of the people”. It failed miserably this part of the examination. Nought! This raises the question: How did the Group plan to determine, as objectively as possible, the wishes of the people? Put your political persuasion aside.

Indeed, how can anyone determine this? Try to be unbiased in your answer. Assessing the wishes of the people may not be as simple as it seems at first. At its most rudimentary level, it involves a combination of factors and observations which cannot be undertaken, together with the other aspects of the terms of reference, in 8 days. The Group arrived in Antigua on March 4, 1999 and departed on March 11, 1999.

The Group should have paid more attention to its terms of reference. It should have worked harder and longer to answer all three compulsory questions. We are taught to read the instructions at the start and during the middle of the examination. Some even read them at the end and beg an extra half mark by noting that they misread the instructions.

And as if to add salt to salt fish, the Group showed its poor powers of observation of local politics when it allowed the colour of the cover of its report to be blue! Was this a veiled reference to the wishes of the people? No! No more than the Group expected the report to be “read”! The Group simply blew the most crucial aspect of its terms of reference.