BBC Caribbean
February 13, 2004

Funds crisis in Antigua elections

Antigua and Barbuda will have new election machinery when voters go to the polls but a date is still to be announced by Prime Minister Lester Bird.

For the first time, voters will have identification cards following a registration drive last year.

After the last election in 1999, a team of observers from the Commonwealth recommended that voter education should be done prior to future elections.

But an official of the five-man Electoral Commission said they have found it difficult to carry out this exercise because of a lack of money from the government.

Bruce Goodwin, the Deputy Chairman of the Electoral Commission, said he has been forced to go public on the issue because he is frustrated after repeated efforts to get the Cabinet to secure the necessary funds.

Goodwin, an outspoken critic of the government, said the Commission needs EC$1.6 million to effectively run the election machinery.

Mr Goodwin said he will reconsider his involvement with the Commission if he is not satisfied that there will be a free and fair poll.

"We are three weeks away from an election and we are not able to access one red cent to run this election," Goodwin said.

Meanwhile, a critic of both the governing Antigua Labour Party and the main opposition United Progressive Party, has accused them of not addressing the critical issue of the economy during their campaigning.

Everett Christian, a member of the Organisation of National Development, which pulled out of the election race, says the Prime Minister's contention that the ALP will stand by its track record is one failure.

"If he is going to stand on his record, then I think he's expecting to get the boot," Christian said. "I don't see how good thinking and clear thinking people would re-elect a government that has failed so dismally in managing the finances of the country."

An ongoing opinion poll, which has been sampling the views of voters since October 2003, published its latest findings on Thursday.

The Antigua-based CASURO poll gives the United People's Party a 14-3 victory margin, a figure that has been consistent with its previous findings, but another poll conducted by a Trinidadian company suggests the Antigua Labour Party will win by a similar margin as well.

In another development, Opposition Leader Baldwin Spencer has written to Caricom requesting that a team be sent to Antigua to observe the run up to the general elections.

Prime Minister Bird has already indicated that he will invite Caricom to witness the polls.