Keep party funding under constant focus
Enough evidence has become public to convince all but those without eyes and ears to see and to hear that political funding lies at the root of much evil attributable to the doings and undoings of successive Trinidad and Tobago administrations.
During election campaigns, it is money that talks, even more loudly than the politicians. Lavish spending on events, transport, specialist and other hiring, advertising and paraphernalia goes far beyond the likely proceeds of cake sales, car raffles, and dues collected from party members.
This is plainly obvious as election campaigns have transformed into occasions of short-lived economic stimulus. In its last released report, on the 2007 election campaign, the Elections and Boundaries Commission, focussed on the "extravagance of financing" that made possible the "prodigious frequency" of political advertising.
Contrasting such largesse to the small sums permitted for election expenses under the applicable legislation, the EBC asked: "What is the source of the extravagant campaign financing?"
The question has since been answered. Almost casually, former finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira acknowledged financial support from the Hindu Credit Union for her 2007 election campaign.
An Express investigative report last year estimated that the same 2007 PNM election campaign benefited to the tune of some $20 million from CL Financial, much of it disbursed in kind through underwriting provision of goods and services, including advertising.
Since then, a $5 million CL cheque made out to the then ruling party has been brandished as an exhibit on People's Partnership platforms. Nor has the PNM been the only beneficiary. Evidence will likely surface attesting to People's Partnership receipt of funding from CL, and from other sources.
Ms Nunez-Tesheira claimed not to have been influenced by gratitude for HCU support in adopting policies and taking actions on matters related to the distressed credit union. That her disclosure of HCU support for herself and other PNM candidates awaited the Colman hearings points up the troublingly secret nature of such activity.
The consequences of political financing have been shown to be not only politically far-reaching (as in the allegations over the Section 34 issue) but also even (as in the Basdeo Panday case still before the courts) to be an occasion of criminal liabilities. Despite pre-election pledges, the present government has displayed little active interest in regulating political funding and making the practice transparent.
For the long-term health of the political system, then, the PNM Opposition should do itself and the country a favour by advancing private-member's legislation to empower the EBC, or other competent body, effectively to regulate campaign financing.