Govt. moves to have Electoral Commissioner appointed by Head of State

Subject to approval by Parliament, the Electoral Commissioner will be appointed by the Head of State on the advice of Cabinet in the near future.

The Commissioner’s independence is highlighted in the Electoral Commissioner Bill 2018 tabled in Parliament last week.

 “The Commissioner must act independently and must not be subject to any direction or order of any other person (except for a court direction or order) when carrying out the following functions: conducting elections or referendums; conducting registration of voters and political parties; advising on electoral matters; any other prescribed functions,” the bill reads.  

The Commissioner will be the Chief Executive Officer of the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C.) and the three-year post comes with stringent requirements which include conditions such as:

• must not hold any other public office or engage in any business or other employment without the prior written approval of Cabinet;  

• at the time of appointment and whilst holding the position of Commissioner, must not -  be a member of any political party; or

• must not assist, support or endorse a Member, Candidate or any person who has declared an intention to become a Candidate, other than performing the Commissioner’s responsibilities, functions, duties and powers under this Act; 

The Act also gives the Head of State acting on the recommendation of the Cabinet the legal power to terminate the appointment of the Commissioner by reason of misbehavior or physical or mental incapacity.  

 “Misbehavior” includes: 

• unauthorized absence for 14 consecutive days or for 28 days in any 12 months; or  

• engaging in paid employment outside the duties of the Commissioner’s office without the approval of the Minister; 

• any other prescribed behavior.

The Commissioner may resign by delivering to the Head of State a 14 days’ notice of resignation in writing. 

Upon appointment the Commissioner must provide the Head of State, the Speaker and the Minister with a declaration of pecuniary interests and convictions in a form approved by the Minister.

In addition, the declaration is to be available for public inspection without cost at the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly during normal business hours.  The Commissioner must provide a declaration for any new pecuniary interest. 

The Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C.) was established as a distinct organisation in 2005 following passage of The Electoral Amendment Act 2005. Prior to that the administration of the Electoral Act was split between the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (until 2003 called the Justice Department) and the Legislative Department.

Since the inception of what used to be called the Electoral Office set up under the Electoral Act 1963, the function of ‘Returning Services’ had always remained under the administration of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.

The ‘Registration Services’ function, on the other hand, was administered by the Justice Department until 1990, when universal suffrage supplanted the Matai suffrage as a result of a Plebiscite (national referendum) conducted that year. From 1990 ‘Registration Services’ moved under the charge of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly; and in 2000 it went back to the Justice Department.

The O.E.C. in its administrative role has a responsibility to the community to ensure that a qualified electors and voters are registered and aware of their rights and responsibilities under the Act.

The Office of the Electoral Commissioner is funded through the Annual Budget Estimates.

The responsible Minister is the Minister of Justice. The relationship between the OEC and the Minister of Justice is governed under the Electoral Act 1963 and the 2005 Amendment.

The Commissioner, who is also the Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) of the Office, is appointed under the terms of Section 3 of the Electoral Amendment Act 2005. The senior management staff group at present consists of:

The Office of the Electoral Commissioner are classified into five areas:

• Registration

• Returning

• Legal & Policy

• Corporate Services

• Information Technology

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