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EOJ unease

Staff express dismay at decision to remove Fisher, displeased that ECJ has not acknowledged petition

Friday, January 12, 2018

Electoral Office of Jamaica staff have come out in support of their boss, Orrette Fisher, and are said to be uneasy over the possibility that the man who oversaw two national elections in 2016 could be removed from his post.

A reliable source told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the majority of the staff is concerned that political interference could be the reason Fisher's two-year contract, which expired on October 31, is not being renewed.

Last November, more than 85 per cent of the staff, including returning officers and assistant returning officers, signed and sent a petition to Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) commissioners expressing “worry, dismay, and disappointment” at the action being taken to remove Fisher from office.

“We are particularly dismayed that after serving the electoral process for over 20 years, nine of which he served in the capacity of director of elections, Mr Fisher is being removed for reasons unbeknownst to us,” the employees stated in the petition, a copy of which was obtained by the Observer.

The staff is reportedly also displeased that the commission has not yet acknowledged receipt of the petition.

Yesterday, attempts to reach ECJ chair Dorothy Pine-McLarty were unsuccessful. However, one commissioner, who opted not to be named, told the Observer: “I haven't received a letter. I don't know whether any of the independent (commissioners) have received a letter. I'm a nominated member, and I don't know anything about that. What I do know is that there is a matter before the court.”

A day before his contract ended, Fisher's attorney, Hugh Wildman, filed an application for an injunction in the Supreme Court to block the ECJ from replacing him as director of elections. The court subsequently ordered that he should remain in the post until the end of November to facilitate the hearing and determination for the application for an injunction.

Fisher has since been granted leave to challenge the ECJ's decision to replace him, and is awaiting a January 24 hearing date.

Fisher had initially been appointed for seven years, then signed two one-year contracts. Wildman is now making the case that under law the appointment of director cannot be made for less than seven years.

According to Wildman, the fact that Fisher had accepted those two one-year contracts was “irrelevant” because “The law is clear. That has nothing to do with him. The statute under which he was appointed makes it abundantly clear that he shall be appointed for seven years.”

It is not known whether Fisher had sought to reapply for the position when the contract expired.

In their petition the signatories acknowledged that the matter is before the court.

They stressed the director's personal integrity and insisted that “he has never tried to influence us individually or collectively to breach the democratic principles of fairness, accountability and integrity”. They further argued that Fisher should not be removed “in a manner which would suggest that he has committed some grievous infraction”.

The petitioners said they were also respectfully urging the commission to protect the staff from political interference “and from any or all overt or covert political action that may influence or may have the likelihood of influencing our role in achieving free and fair elections”.

Under the ECJ (Interim) Act the director of elections is nominated by the eight commissioners of the ECJ, but only six — three selected and three nominated — have to be in agreement in order to effect his dismissal.