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Editorial: Reining in the gangs: Monitor the money

Published:Monday | October 5, 2015 | 10:00 AM

When the Gangs of Gordon House last jousted for control of Parliament and to exercise power over the lives of Jamaicans, that campaign cost them, by most estimates, more than J$3 billion. We know where a mere three per cent of that came from.

Five companies - GraceKennedy, Scotiabank, Jamaica Money Market Brokers, Sagicor, and ICD Group - declared contributions totalling J$69.5 million to the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The rest of the funding source remains palpably murky.

The gangs like it that way. For this absence of transparency facilitates the cronyism and patronage by which they long existed and from which they find it hard to wean themselves, even when they know that 80 per cent of Jamaicans perceive them to be corrupt and that the evidence proves their behaviour to be deleterious to economic growth and development.

Further, the current arrangement not only encourages the politics of special interests and the entrenchment of the status quo, but it deepens the danger of the proxy acquisition of Jamaica's political institutions and its government by tainted money.

So, notwithstanding any seeming embrace of demands for change, we can expect the gangs to, if not openly resist, stall, with the hope of frustrating efforts to have them reform themselves. Their default instinct, unfortunately, is self-preservation.

The undermining of change must not be allowed to succeed. That is why there is need for vigilance over a bill on campaign financing that is shortly to be tabled in Parliament at the urging of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ). That legislation will, among other things, place limits on the campaign donations/contributions that individuals and firms can make to political parties, as well as require that benchmark sums be filed with the ECJ.

 

CYNICAL ENDS

 

First, the independent members of the ECJ have to ensure that the text of the legislation matches the intent of the deliberations and that the convention of passing without amendments bills proposed by the commission is not exploited to cynical ends.

But whatever law is passed is unlikely to be applicable to the next election, which, while not constitutionally due for 15 months, is expected to be held well before, perhaps even before year end. In the event, the ECJ will not have in place all its regulations and the staff to appropriately police the new arrangements. Unmonitored, the parties are likely to contrive to allow the legislation to lapse and then meet a slow, wasting demise.

In the interim, it is up to the public to hold the Gangs of Gordon House to account and insist they do the right thing, including, for this election, abide by the spirit of the bill. This the public should demand be enshrined in the Political Code of Conduct. They should say, publicly, from whom they get their money and how they spend it.

Additionally, private-sector firms, as was the case with the five of 2011, should undertake to declare their donations, unabashed by their decisions and appreciating the fact that democracy is enhanced in an environment of transparency. Otherwise, pedlars of narrow interests, or shady men with brown paper bags, might gain patented ownership of Gordon House and the gangs that currently reside therein.