Editorial: Ignorant legislators?
Derrick Smith and his namesake, Lloyd B. Smith, hold important positions in Jamaica's Parliament, although they occupy seats on either side of the aisle. The former is leader of opposition business in the House; the latter is the Deputy Speaker. Derrick Smith has previously been a Cabinet minister and shadows the security portfolio.
You would expect, therefore, that both men would be aware of and take seriously, the laws by which they were elected to the Parliament, where, with others, they are vested to approve legislation to govern the lives of Jamaicans. That is why we are astonished, and find hard to digest, at the presumed ignorance and/or absent-mindedness that has caused them to flout the rules.
Under Section 60 (1) of Jamaica's Representation of the People's Act, within six weeks of an election, a candidate, or his agent, is to file a return of his expenditure on his campaign, which is capped at J$10 million. The last general election was held in December 2011, nearly four years ago. Neither of the Mr Smiths, based on the records of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), as reported by this newspaper, had, up to last week, filed the appropriate returns.
A long-time parliamentarian, Derrick Smith, said that he has in the past filed his returns and urged Jamaicans to believe that his dereliction this time "was an obvious oversight". Quite hilariously, Deputy Speaker Smith could not recall whether he had filed his. He did not, Mr Smith argued, deal with the financial aspects of his campaign, by which, we suppose he means that he was not accountable or responsible.
This kind of irresponsibility among the elected officials, or people who sought to be, is not limited to the two Mr Smiths. More than half (53.3 per cent) of those who contested the last general election are yet to file their returns as they were legally - and we would add morally - bound to do. The Smiths and their colleagues should appreciate that such failures help to erode trust and confidence in Jamaica's electoral process, the rule of law and, ultimately, Jamaica's democracy.
But the fault for this failure rests not only with the Smiths and other recalcitrant candidates. The enforcers of the rules, we believe, bear some of the guilt.
While the section that deals with the reporting requirements of candidates and their agents doesn't specifically say what is to happen in the event that they do not comply, the implication is that they would have broken the law and thereby committed an offence. Indeed, in the same section, a candidate, and/or his agent, can be liable for election expenditure above the benchmarked amount, for which they can be fined up to J$100,000 or jailed for up to six months.
Perhaps other sanctions in the law are applicable to failure to file expenditure returns, but as the case of the Smiths and the other outstanding candidates reveals, it has not been tested by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica and/or the Office of the Director of Elections. No one, insofar as we are aware, has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine whether he/she can be prosecuted or barred as a future electoral candidate. Perchance it is argued that the law does not allow this. We have not heard the agitation for its change.