Thursday, January 18, 2018

In the same corrupt boat


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It is more than a little disingenuous for the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) to accuse the Tobago House of Assembly of using State-funded advertising as a campaign strategy during the run-up to Monday's election.

This does not mean, however, that the TOP's allegation is without merit. The disingenuousness lies in the fact that all political parties, including the United National Congress, do the same when occupying office.

Indeed, only yesterday the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) ran an advertisement which, peculiarly, trumpeted its ongoing developmental works in Tobago. And, despite Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's claim to the contrary, the decision by the People's Partnership to debate the Tobago Constitutional Reform Bill in the run-up to the THA election was itself a way to promote the Government and its coalition partner so as to gain a PR advantage in the campaign.

This use of ads during an election campaign by Government ministries, state companies, and other official entities is, however, a form of corruption. Political parties are private organisations whose main purpose is to get into public office. Since the distinction between party and government is always blurry—and since politicians do their best to keep it that way—state advertising is intended to send a not-so-subliminal message about the accomplishments of the political party which is in power. This is using public funds for private ends—which is the very definition of official corruption.

So politicians who complain about the ruling party using such strategies are only displaying their hypocrisy. Both the PNM and the Partnership could disprove such allegations by doing an audit of advertising expenditure by Government ministries during their tenures, which would show whether there is an increase in the weeks before an election.

But, if politicians truly found this practice so objectionable, then, when they are in power, they could institute policies or regulations which would stop or mitigate it. For example, a government could, with the co-operation of the opposition, pass a law banning all state entities from promotional advertising during the six weeks before an election campaign (although ads which serve to provide essential information to the public would naturally still be allowed).

Since all political parties pay lip service against any misuse of state funds, there should be no problem getting such legislation passed unanimously. Indeed, the Opposition PNM could even recommend such a bill to the Government.

Given the low denominators by which our politicians operate, however, we doubt that we'll soon hear any such calls from any political party which has a chance to win an election and, when in office, use the same strategies they so decried when the other side did it.