Sun | May 28, 2017

Peter Espeut: Paying the Pryce of hypocrisy

Published:Friday | July 17, 2015 | 7:00 AM

There is a resolution before Jamaica's Parliament, brought by a government MP as a private member's motion, which seeks to "vouchsafe and protect Jamaica's democracy from any ... compromise, as could be caused by unknown or tainted sources of funds or hidden agendas". I am in complete support of this resolution.

The proposer advocates: "But many times, they can receive funds in a subversive way that has hidden agendas, and many times those sources of funds come from agencies that are inimical to the way of life of the wider society." My feelings exactly!

The fear here is that "he who pays the piper calls the tune", so it is important for the public to know who is paying the piper, so when you hear the tune, you will know whose interests are being served. Democracy is fragile, so mechanisms should be put in place to ensure transparency, to prevent our democracy being subverted by special interests.

Lest you think that - finally - some sanity has come to Gordon House, and that a great leap forward is being proposed to eradicate political corruption, let me hasten to clarify that the resolution House seeks to require non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to disclose their sources of funding.

The proposer of the resolution is Raymond Pryce, member of parliament (MP), deputy general secretary of the People's National Party (PNP) with responsibility for communication. He said that while Jamaica's democracy was kept vibrant by civil-society groups, such democracy could be compromised if special-interest groups were unduly influenced by their funders. He argued that the NGOs, which influence public opinion, can themselves be "hijacked" or otherwise compromised by those who would rather use them to advance their political or partisan agendas. And, he argues, this is why they should be required by law to make a public declaration of their sources of funding to advance the cause of transparency in public affairs.

No problem declaring

I agree! I have headed two environmental NGOs (ENGOs) in my time, and my boards of directors and staff would have been happy so to do. And I don't know anyone in the ENGO sector who would be reluctant to publicly declare the amounts and sources of their funding.

Does Mr Pryce not see the glaring contradiction in his resolution? Who has more influence over public policy and the passage of legislation: NGOs or political parties? If it is so important - as MP Pryce argues - for the sources of funding of NGOs to be made public, how much more important is it for the funding sources of political parties to be made public? And yet the political party of which Mr Pryce is spokesman objects to the source and amount of political donations being made public. The PNP (and the Jamaica Labour Party) want political parties to be required to declare only big donations, but not to the public; they want declarations of big donations to be made in secret; and they don't want small donations to be declared at all!

Everybody knows that the way to get around that is to break up your big donation into small amounts, and have them donated by different persons, so that everything will fly below the radar, and big donations will be hidden.

Yet Pryce and the party for which he is spokesman want NGOs to declare openly and publicly ALL sources of funding of ALL amounts. This will "vouchsafe and protect Jamaica's democracy from any ... compromise, as could be caused by unknown or tainted sources of funds or hidden agendas" coming from the NGO side, but will allow political parties to "receive funds in a subversive way that has hidden agendas, and many times those sources of funds come from agencies that are inimical to the way of life of the wider society".

political donations

Shame, Raymond Pryce! What is good for the goose is good for the gander! If you are serious and genuine about protecting Jamaica's democracy, you should table a resolution requiring all political donations to be made public.

A House select committee was created so the public could make submissions on Mr Pryce's resolution. Only one submission has so far been received - from the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS). It asked some questions: "What is the aim of such a proposed legislation? Also: What is the mischief which it seeks to correct?"

Committee member and MP Arnaldo Brown answered the question: the mischief being addressed by the resolution "is really the lack of transparency among civil society groups".

Exactly!

Because they are fair men, and because they want to protect Jamaica's fragile democracy, I expect MP Arnaldo Brown and MP Raymond Pryce to lead the fight for transparency of all political donations.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist.

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