A week after the Boundaries Commission Report was tabled in the House of Assembly, the Opposition’s representative on the Boundaries Commission, St. Anne’s Member of Parliament (MP) Hubert Chipman accused the government of blatant gerrymandering.
A burst of outrage sparked among MP’s in the House of Assembly yesterday after House Speaker Dr. Kendal Major read the St. Anne’s MP’s sentiments via a letter dated February 13, 2017.
In his absence, Mr. Chipman in the letter expressed extreme displeasure in what he called the “complete and utter variance between the contents of the document” shown to him and one actually tabled in Parliament last Wednesday.
Additionally he said the report lacks the test of fundamental fairness.
“There is no objective criteria so far as we can see, to support the recalibration of boundaries for those constituencies described in Schedule 1 or the First Schedule to the draft order. This means that the government members of the Commission have been guilty of gerrymandering in New Providence constituencies at the expense of those in Opposition. The Montagu (Free Town) and St. Anne’s constituencies are the most blatant cases,” Mr. Chipman said.
“Secondly, there can be no justification for an increase in the number of seats, particularly where the voter registration has been alarmingly abysmal in 2016 and in 2017. This is yet another attempt by the government to stack the election odds in its favour,” he said.
Mr. Chipman also charged that the report breeches the constitution.
“The draft report as identified at caption does not comply with the requirements of Article 70 (1) of the Constitution and is probably void, with the result that the position to be applied is that which prevailed in the 2012 elections, so that there will be thirty-eight constituencies with the boundary configurations referable thereto as were extant for the 2012 elections. I am now advised that as a matter of law this draft report may be challenged on this ground,” Mr. Chipman said.
House Speaker Dr. Major in calling St. Anne’s MP’s letter unprecedented, opted not to discuss the issue any further until debate on the boundaries report had been concluded.
Dr. Major sat as the chairperson of the Boundaries Commission.
Meantime an outraged Marathon MP and Boundaries Commission member Jerome Fitzgerald strongly condemned Mr. Chipman’s claims as “ridiculous”.
“I want to make it clear that that letter as it relates to the fact that there were any changes to any boundaries after we unanimously signed that report, there were no changes to any boundary whatsoever Mr. Speaker.” Mr. Fitzgerlad said.
“I’m sorry the member for St. Anne’s is not here so he can face us face to face. Not one change was made Mr. Speaker. The second point is that at the end of the day, the only change that was made that all of us signed unanimously; including you Mr. Speaker. The change was at the discretion of the prime minister, and that was the name change form Montague to Free Town,” he added.
Meantime, FNM MP’s Richard Lightbourne and Dr. Andre Rollins have taken the matter to court.
A judicial review of the constitutionality and legality of the Boundaries Commission’s report will be heard before Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder today.
Still the House Speaker said a general election will not be held up because of the legal action.