Peter Espeut | Fuelling the vision
The political commentators have observed that the campaign of the People's National Party (PNP) leading up to this week's local government elections lacked energy. The JEEP had run out of gas, perhaps. It takes cash to run elections and to buy votes, and the PNP was short of political funding, which is a story in itself.
Why did the private sector withhold contributions from the PNP? Surely, the recent campaign donations scandal was part of it. If people are uncertain whether the hard-earned cash they shell out to their party to help them win an election is going to end up in someone's private pocket, maybe they won't give anything at all, or maybe just a smalls. Is this an opportune time to renew the call for transparency in campaign financing, with full disclosure of sources and amounts, and published annual accounts?
This is part of it, but it can't be the whole story of why the PNP lacked funding. When you are in opposition, and you have no contracts or waivers to offer, that is when you know who your real friends are. Since there was no 'quo', there won't be any 'quid'. Maybe the PNP has forgotten how to do real fundraising.
What bothers me about the J$600-million pre-election bushing exercise was not just that it happened (this sort of thing always happens before elections and before Christmas and Independence), but that the contracts to do this Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Crash Programme were not tendered (Could a PNP contractor have ever won it?), which means that it became an opportunity for kickbacks. This sort of political work is usually given to politically affiliated middlemen who hire the green-shirted 'bushers', pay them low wages, and dispose of the rest in their best interests.
In the first place, this whole episode is sure evidence of the political naivete and inexperience of the JLP. Long ago, the PNP announced that no orange shirts were to be worn during public roadwork, to make it that much harder to detect partisan work allocation. Why didn't the JLP do the same, right up front? The JLP has been out of power for a long time and has forgotten the runnings.
In the second place, we need to know who the contractors are. This is the sort of work that Dudus and his PNP equivalents used to do. Is this J$600-million bush-clearing project political campaign financing by another name? The PNP is complaining; the party knows the runnings. None of their contractors got any of the work. That is their real problem.
Will we ever see audited financials from these contractors showing how the money was spent? How much was paid to the bushers, and how much went elsewhere? Surely, any entity receiving public money must have an obligation to show that the money was property spent and that the country has received value for money spent?
I look forward to the report of the contractor general into this matter.
Surely, the workings of this election must show the private sector where their real power lies in the Jamaican political system: Withhold your political contributions and the parties are unable to function as they wish to and are brought to their knees. The private sector has an obligation to lobby hard to ensure that their political contributions are not used for any nefarious purpose, like to purchase guns and ammunition, or to buy votes.
This is the time for influence to be brought to bear on all parties to rid Jamaica's body politic of the scourge of political corruption and influence peddling.
Before the February general election, the party currently in power seemed sympathetic to this idea. Maybe the PNP, in its fallen state, can be brought to see full transparency as being in its best interest.
The Andrew Holness Government now holds the reins of both central and local government and can work full steam ahead to bring economic growth and prosperity to this country. Should they do nothing else but reduce political corruption, they would be more than halfway towards their goal.
I challenge the JLP to hold national consultations to build consensus towards a national vision. Why don't they dust off the Vision 2030 document from their shelves and spend some time investigating how those worthy ideas may be implemented?
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.