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Editorial: Parties should bar recalcitrants

Published:Monday | December 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

A potentially positive, if perhaps unintended, outcome of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's retreat from a general election this year is that it gives the political parties more time to vet their candidates to ensure that they are fit and proper to serve in the legislature.

The parties should start by ensuring that the persons on their slates are not in breach of the law relating to their obligations as candidates, and, for those who already serve in Parliament, that they have not been seduced into corruption.

But the greater part of this responsibility rests with the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and their respective leaders, Mrs Simpson Miller and Andrew Holness. The requisite oversight institutions, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) and the Parliamentary Integrity Commission, are obliged to press, insofar as possible, for greater public accountability and transparency. On this front, they have not, in our view, done nearly enough.

The situation may have improved in the two months since this newspaper first highlighted the matter, but, up to late September, nearly four years after Jamaicans last voted in a general election, more than half of the candidates (53.3 per cent) had not fulfilled their legal requirement to file expenditure returns with the ECJ. The filings should have been done within six weeks of the election.

Of the 80 recalcitrants, 77.7 per cent (62) represented the two big parties in the election, with 56 per cent being representatives of the JLP. In other words, 71 per cent of the JLP's 63 candidates spurned the law. But while the behaviour of the JLP's candidates was poor, it doesn't mean that the PNP's was good. More than a quarter of theirs (27 per cent) were still in breach in September.

On either side, some of their biggest names were in breach and gave, when pressed, some of the most spurious and, were it not a serious issue, mirthful reasons for their failure. What is not funny about this, however, is that the absence of accountability and enforcement widens a loophole through which special interests, including those engaged in illegal activities, can manipulate Jamaica's democracy, which may be on the auction block to people with the thickest pocketbooks.

 

New legislation

 

A new legislation just approved by Parliament should tighten the finance-reporting arrangements by parties and candidates, for which we hope the ECJ is putting in place the appropriate policing systems and mechanisms.

In the meantime, however, neither of the parties should field any candidate for the next election - expected early in 2016 - unless he or she has become current with all outstanding expense reports and had given a formal undertaking to, this time, adhere to the law.

Further, we believe it incumbent on the ECJ to publicly say who is still in breach and forcefully pursue any remedy allowable in law.

At the same time, while the legal reporting arrangement of the Parliamentary Integrity Commission does not allow as much transparency, we believe it can be more robust in seeking to prosecute, in its own right, by passing to the political and legislative leaders those members of parliament who failed to file their assets or liability reports or have been inadequate in their filings. Further, the commission should demand the timely tabling of its annual work reports in Parliament.