Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Garth Rattray | Shame and scandal in politics

Published:Monday | September 12, 2016 | 9:00 AM

The allegation that dedicated campaign contributions (for the 2016 general election) to a few senior People's National Party (PNP) members were not handed over to the party is horribly embarrassing, shameful and worrying.

Media accounts are that PNP treasurer Norman Horne reported the matter to the PNP National Executive Council (NEC). It is surmised that the withholding of those essential campaign contributions is part of the reason the PNP did not mount a competitive election campaign and, therefore, lost control of the government. Mr Horne wrote: "These persons were actively in the market for what seemed to be sole benefit of their personal campaigns and collected significant amounts from members of the private sector who were earmarked by the treasury as potential substantial donors for the benefit of the PNP as one cohesive unit."

Mumblings have loosely implicated a certain ilk within the party and this has precipitated energetic defensive consternation and death threats against Mr Horne. Since this is Jamaica, where morals are cheap and hired killers even cheaper, no one speaks publicly of these things, but many claim to know the politicians and the companies concerned.

It speaks to the massive spending that goes on (on both sides of the political divide) near elections; not all of it is spent on ads and official campaign events. Money is needed for T-shirts and to 'encourage' supporters to attend the political rallies and cheer for anything and everything that the speakers utter on stage.

Besides the monies spent during campaigning, politicians need money to assist their constituents above and beyond the official constituency funds. Helping the needy is one thing, but that can sometimes lead to the spiralling of entire generations of families down into the abyss of the dependency syndrome - a very dangerous social malady that often engenders feelings of entitlement, anger at society, and heartless criminality.

During this very embarrassing exposÈ, the topic of kickbacks has reared its ugly head. This is nothing new. As a young man, when I had friends and relatives working with government at levels that brought them close to politicians, talk of a 'finder's fee' or 'agent fee' (euphemisms for kickback) was common. Then, as it is now, the talk rarely got beyond allegations - just a whole lot of talk until the tempest lost its energy and dissipated.

 

HUMONGOUS SUMS

 

Allegedly, individuals representing political parties collect humongous sums as campaign contributions for elections and as 'finder's fee or agent's fee' for large contracts. These sums are by no means seen as civic commitments; they are essentially used to buy present and future favours with the politicians concerned. These things profoundly undermine the foundation of our society and warp everything from economic equity and human rights to the justice system.

Do our politicians feel beholden to their benefactors? Do financial contributors get special treatment for tax breaks, contracts, board positions, legal transgressions and national policy decisions? Most people would say 'yes'.

This is why so many citizens strongly believe that people who go into politics do so for power and money. I know for a fact that this is not always the case; but the decent politicians get splashed with the muck that lands on the group. And, the decent ones are perceived as accomplices by virtue of their proximity to corruption. It is felt that they must certainly be aware of the shenanigans.

I realise that people will always find innovative ways around obstacles, but we must quickly institute strict and transparent guidelines for campaign contributions. These must come with severe penalties if they are breached.

We also need to recruit the local and international financial institutions in surveilling and tracking down large sums of monies that pass to politicians, their proxies or family members anywhere in the world.

The current happenings are by no means confined to one political party.

There has always been talk of massive campaign donations to both political parties from corporate Jamaica and of kickbacks for contracts. I'm glad that the Office of the Contractor General is probing some of the allegations. I hope and pray that the truth will be revealed. Let the chips fall where they may. Jamaica desperately needs to stem corruption.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.