GML ENTERPRISE DESK
Retired chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission Norbert Masson says there is a plan in the making to improve the operations and overall efficiency of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC).
Speaking to the GML Enterprise Desk days after his retirement, Masson, 82, said: "Many things are happening and I hope they will continue."
One project which he was hoping to see come to fruition was the International Standard Organisation (ISO) certification for the EBC, a project which is being done in conjunction with the Organisation of American States.He explained that ISO/TS 17582 defined specific requirements for eight processes that were fundamental to any election.
These include voter registration; registration of political organisations and candidates; electoral logistics; vote casting; vote counting and declaration of results; electoral education; oversight of campaign financing and resolution of electoral disputes.
The standard creates the framework for an electoral quality management system that will help organisations like the EBC provide more reliable and transparent electoral services. It also creates a certification system against which electoral bodies can be assessed.
Masson said two ISO experts and a specialist in electoral management visited the EBC recently.
"They audited our systems. They are to submit a report showing the gaps. Based on those recommendations we are going to make the necessary changes to be accredited under the ISO standard. That is going to take some time," he added.
Asked why this certification was so important to the EBC, Masson said: "Because it will make us a world-class organisation. We trying to get the competent network. When Trinidad and Tobago is accredited we will be the first country in the English-speaking world to have such certification."
Once accredited, he said, some of the problems which currently existed would be addressed, including the question of online registration, renewal of citizens' ID cards who have not changed their addresses within a day.
"A procurement policy will be put in place and the issue of campaign financing will be addressed," he added.
That issue of campaign financing, however, is tied to the legislators and he admitted requires legislation, but Masson said: "I see the Government seems to be doing something about it. We will wait and see."
Masson, who retired on December 4, said he was satisfied though that in his two stints as chairman of the EBC there have been improvements as the EBC sought to modernise and upgrade its operations.
He said: "All our offices are now inter-connected electronically, people getting identification cards in days, we now have field officers, a legal department and we are working with a strategic plan that was approved by Cabinet.
" The plan is for the period 2012-2016. Cabinet also approved the human resource aspect which provided for an increase in staff."
Masson reflected on the dark shadow hanging over the EBC as he demits office, the legal challenge brought by the United National Congress challenging the commission's decision to extend the polls on September 7, by one hour, for Trinidad, because of bad weather.
The political party filed challenges for six of the marginal constituencies which is yet to be determined by the High Court.Masson said: "That matter is before the courts and I have been advised that I cannot speak on it but that was not done by one individual, the commission agreed on it."
Under his watch, he said, the commission oversaw numerous elections, including Tobago House of Assembly, local government and general elections. Asked whether he was satisfied with the conduct of all of them, he said: "Absolutely.
"All the elections under my watch were free and fair, all calls for recounts were dealt with and settled, everything was above board, absolutely."
Over the years there have been other concerns about the electoral process, not least of which was the quality of the electoral ink, but it was one which he said he acted on promptly on assuming the chairmanship ten years ago. He said: "I did what was necessary so we no longer get criticisms.
The EBC, he said, purchased the ingredients for the ink which were sent to the government chemist for production. "The government chemist produces the ink. It is now standard and there are no longer any complaints," he added.
Only recently the UNC held its internal elections and there were complaints from voters that the ink washed off easily. Electoral officer of the party, Dr Rampersad Parasram, told the media that the ink used was the same brand used by the EBC, but Masson said: "I do not know what ink they used."He told us he regretted not being able to achieve more during his 30-odd years at the organisation but he said a major stumbling block was bureaucracy.
He explained: "While the commission and its commissioners are independent the department that serves the commission is staffed by public servants subject to all the bureaucratic laws that govern the public service, to get staff and accommodation takes years." Masson said the commission had been trying to move the Diego Martin Registration office out of the EBC headquarters, at Scott House, Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain, "but getting a simple thing like accommodation is a whole rigmarole.
"People who live in Diego Martin should not have to come to Port-of-Spain but getting the approval from the Government department that is responsible is a problem."
Some of the high points of his tenure, he said, were improvements in the registration process, a handbook was produced with input from the commission's staff on registration procedures.
Another achievement, he said, was the inter-connection of all offices "so if someone goes to Arima to register, their information is sent electronically to Port-of-Spain to ensure that the registration is expedited."
He is confident that the EBC is today in a better place than when he assumed office. His one regret is not being there when the commission achieves ISO certification, but he said: "Time marches on, you pass the baton. It is a race that will continue from generation to generation. "Do as much as you can and pass the baton. Pass it at a time when the organisation is in a better shape than when you started."
Masson has spent close to 51 years serving the country in various portfolios. He was principal of the John Donaldson Technical Institute, director of the Metrication Board, director of the Institute of Marine Affairs and served as permanent secretary in what was once a mega-ministry which encompassed education, sports, culture, community development and youth affairs in the 1970s.
He served as a commissioner of the EBC and was subsequently appointed chairman, a post he held until his retirement. His contribution was recognised at the national awards in 1984 and 2000, after he was conferred with the Medal of Merit and Chaconia Gold, in the sphere of public service.
The appointment of a new chairman now rests with President Anthony Carmona.However, the other commissioners Mark Ramkerrysingh, Lewis Charles and Dr Noel Kallicharan will carry out the responsibilities of the commission until a new chairman is appointed.