Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Lifting the cloak of darkness

Published:Monday | November 2, 2015 | 11:00 AM

As of today, November 2, 2015 (and since the first universal adult suffrage in Jamaica in 1944), it remains entirely lawful for an individual officer or candidate of a political party in Jamaica to receive donations/contributions at any time from:

• Convicted criminals like 'Dudus' Coke or David Smith or lotto scammers serving time;

• Illegal entities like Cash Plus or Olint;

• Companies with government contracts like Trafigura, with no disclosure whatever to anybody;

• Foreign state entities like China Harbour Engineering Company;

• Individuals giving any amount, whether $1,000 or $1 million without disclosure to anybody, whether to another officer, party members/supporters, to the public or to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).

• For a party to spend any amount of money on election campaigns, with no limit whatsoever.

It remains entirely lawful for political parties to keep their accounts secret from party officials, party members/supporters, from the public, from the ECJ, while civil-society organisations, charities, not-for-profit companies and public companies are obliged by law to lodge their accounts with public authorities and/or make their financials available to the public.

Yet, unlike civil-society bodies, the political party, as Government, can increase or reduce taxes, increase or reduce money for health services, education, police, or courts and determine whether the Privy Council, the Caribbean Court of Justice or a Jamaican court of appeal shall be at the apex of the justice system.

If and when the amendments previously passed (requiring party registration) and those finally tabled on October 27 (requiring some regulation of campaign finance) are gazetted into law, the 70-year-old cloak of darkness and secrecy under which Jamaican parties have hidden themselves shall be lifted, but far from removed.

Thereafter, parties shall be obliged by law to submit to the ECJ (with a majority of selected, independent, non-political members):

• Registration documents and 'an annual financial report ... showing the sources of funds of the political party';

• 'The full name, address and occupation or description ... of any contributor' of $250,000 or above to a party or candidate during 'the campaign period' defined as beginning four and a half years after a government takes office or when the prime minister officially announces the election date, whichever is earlier.

Violation of these prohibitions, once established in a resident magistrate's court, renders the party liable 'to a fine not exceeding three million dollars or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months'.

Under the proposed law, during the campaign period:

• No party can spend more than $630 million for all 63 constituencies nor an individual candidate more than $10 million.

• No individual contributor can contribute more than $1 million to an individual candidate.

• No individual contributor can contribute more than $31.5 million to a particular party.

• A political party is obliged to submit 'a campaign period expenditure report' within six months after an election detailing statement of all contributions, including identities of the $250,000 contributors.

• The ECJ shall publish the report, including 'a list of all contributions of, or exceeding, $1 million'.

These amendments clearly lift, but do not remove the cloak of darkness. Full transparency requires, among other changes:

• Ongoing, periodic disclosure of all party contributions to the public, not just to the ECJ;

• A ban on parties receiving contributions from impermissible donors, not just during the campaign period, but at all times.

Such necessary advances shall come only with massive sustained demand from the public, inside and outside the parties, as well as from international partners serious about upholding the united nations convention against corruption. As we work for the 'best', I support the 'good'; lifting the cloak, not waiting another 13 years in total darkness!

- Professor Trevor Munroe is executive director of the National Integrity Action. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and trevormunroe@yahoo.com.