Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Editorial | The benefit of Norman Horne’s insight

Published:Wednesday | August 24, 2016 | 8:00 AM

The leaking of Norman Horne's treasurer's report highlighting the disjointed and internally competitive approach to fundraising by the People's National Party (PNP) provides a rare insider's insight into the operation of a Jamaican political party and, in this case, the consequence of dysfunctional management.

In that lies an eloquent case which the PNP seems to accept, now that it is in Opposition - the urgent implementation of the political party/campaign-finance legislation that Parliament passed in January. And for reasons beyond providing the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) as a buffer, current state of the law notwithstanding, behind which the PNP can hide its failures at internal accountability.

With the law requiring the registration of political parties not yet in force, the PNP or other such institutions set up to seek state power are under no obligation to publicly account for their finances, although on occasion, in recent times, the PNP has done so. In a report prepared for the PNP's National Executive Council, Mr Horne disclosed that for the year to end of June, the party had assets of approximately J$300 million, including $159 million in equity and debt of J$54 million.

The PNP, however, incurred a loss of J$34 million on its operation for the year because it spent approximately J$117 million more on its election campaign than it collected: J$486.3 million to J$379.2 million. The significance here is this part of Mr Horne's explanation for the deficit.

He said: "On numerous occasions, information received by the treasury from the potential donors was that contributions had already been made to senior party members for the benefit of the party. However, only a few members reported or accounted in full, or even in part, for the receipt of these donations to the treasury or the party executive.

"This heavily affected the party's income and short-changed the party, resulting in a negative effect on the national campaign. Financially speaking, there was not one central bank, but several banks; some of which had more resources than the treasury."

 

CHECKS AND BALANCES A MUST

 

That this apparently allowed for competing financial power centres and discordance in the PNP's election campaign are matters of little concern to this newspaper, but the absence of a central oversight and accountability for money highlights how dirty cash can enter Jamaica's political process and help to determine election outcomes. Without appropriate financial checks and balances, the greater the likelihood that our democracy may be available for purchase by the highest bidder.

We do not believe that the laws passed in January provide for sufficient transparency in how, and from whom, political parties and their candidates get their money; but if they were in place, the ECJ would have a better sense of what they actually collected, and, if it was minded, could audit their books. Indeed, the ECJ would automatically have to be told of donors who give J$1 million or more, and the parties and candidates would have to keep full records on donations/contributions of J$250,000 and above.

Or, as the PNP executive put it, this would "ensure the existence of a clear and formal framework to govern campaign financing, and bring greater transparency to the financing of the electoral process". That, however, doesn't relieve political parties, if they are committed to democracy, of their own obligation to this transparency.