In Jack Warner’s ILP “conviction” is apparently much more than mere belief. The ILP’s interim leadership includes the experienced Jack; a recent vice president of the Senate; and, the multi-hatted former senator and general election candidate Robin Montano. Still, some ILP local elections candidates have already caused questions about the quality of Jack’s screening process. Shady election candidates and shadowy election campaign financing slice to the heart of democracy. Double-deportees have rights but political leaders have responsibilities in deciding who gets through their gates.
Then again candidates from all the parties may already be in breach of the law in the way their campaigns are organised, run and financed. And they may be in breach of the law knowingly, unknowingly, or without concern for what the law actually says.
No party complies fully with the law relating to election expenses. In its report on the 2013 THA elections, the Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) pointed to the $25,000 limit on election expenses per candidate in the law and noted the possibility that the two main parties spent $25 million on the campaign. The EBC concluded that, “it is highly probable that sources of funding beyond the financial resources of candidates and political parties are available”.
At a conference earlier this year, I described these shadowy “sources of funding” as Return On Political Equity (ROPE), the noose that ensures there’s neither campaign financing reform nor public procurement reform, making it possible for private money to fund political outcomes in exchange for a free hand in the distribution of public sector contracts for goods and services.
A recent Express report details text messages sent by a senior procurement executive at WASA. It points to the use of the procurement office for sourcing campaign funds from contractors. Whether or not this report is accurate, people familiar with State sector procurement know the practice is rampant. Whether the funds solicited in the cause of election campaigns actually reach those campaigns is an entirely different matter.
Second, no party complies with the law in the way campaigns are resourced. For example, the law contemplates that vehicles for election day transportation are registered with the EBC. There is no way the use of vehicles can be monitored and this requirement is breached by all the parties on election day. In the lead-up to election day, incumbency is put to use, and State vehicles are put to use in campaigns, including PTSC buses commandeered, with bills unpaid long after the campaigns are over.
There are other abuses and in some cases breaches of the law in the way the State media is commandeered and put to use during campaigns, with the incumbent using political control to manipulate the schedules, picking and choosing the access of opposing parties, and using other means to control the flow of information, discussion, and dialogue. The privately-owned media have already gotten into the fray, picking and choosing how and who uses their resources and bowing to the needs of those who control the advertising revenue flow.
Third, no party or candidate complies fully with the requirement for all election expenses to be handled through election agents and for full accountability. The existing law is very basic and there is no way the EBC can possibly match the final returns filed by candidates to the actual expenses incurred through election agents. In reality expenses are funded through the parties and through handlers and fixers at the local level. The EBC ends up seeing formal disclosures that fit neatly into the limits set by law.
It is unlikely that campaign financing reform will take place before the general election due in 2015. It is in no politician’s interest that it does. When they get around to fixing the law, the Jamaican example is worth considering.
Four days ago Jamaica’s senate was set to consider the report of the island’s electoral commission on campaign financing. Jamaica took a two-stage approach to campaign financing reform: a report on the registration and financing of political parties was accepted by parliament in 2010 and this report on campaign financing was laid in 2011.
Jamaica’s report on campaign financing reform will now lead to draft legislation. The electoral commission proposes a national election campaign fund in support of the democratic process generally and seeks to deem certain potential donors impermissible. The report also proposes limits on campaign contributions, and limits on candidate and political party expenditure.
Perhaps the most significant proposal is the one in which the state will make a contribution by rebate to candidates and political parties based on votes cast at the election. For candidates and parties this will really make every vote count and in political strongholds where “sure seats” lead to lower than average voter turnout, parties may have another reason to pull voters out.
The biggest issues in campaign financing are not necessarily at the candidate but at the party level. Incumbency has advantages and there is a disparity in the resources available to competing parties, a feature particularly debilitating to “start-up” parties, parties with regional or issue-related interests and independent candidates.
In the current local government campaign the voices of the less-resourced parties and candidates are drowned out by the well-heeled campaigns by the parties who are well funded because of their current or past access to the spoils of the State.
It makes money more important than integrity, values and conviction.
—Happy birthday to my
uncles Chayro and Robin)
• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and a university lecturer