Sat | Mar 24, 2018

Editorial | Campaign financing and corruption

Published:Sunday | February 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It's more than half a decade since the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) fashioned the broad contours of an election and political party financing law. It is more than a year since Parliament approved such a bill. Last September, Derrick Smith, the House leader, who speaks on electoral matters in Andrew Holness' Government, announced that drafting instructions had been given for the regulations for the management of the legislation.

Yet the bill is not in force. The ECJ has been publicly silent on the matter. And the political parties - the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), led by Mr Holness, and the People's National Party, with its lame-duck president and her heir apparent, Peter Phillips - are no doubt happy. For, the erosion of public trust notwithstanding, the Gangs of Gordon House have thrived in an environment of corruption.

But in the absence of urgency on this matter, Mr Holness, Mrs Simpson Miller and Dr Phillips and other stakeholders miss a crucial point: that the declining legitimacy of critical institutions of the State limits their capacity to ensure a sustainable fix of the country's more enduring problems - criminal violence and a weak economy. For a deeper appreciation of these issues recommends to them the recent writings in this newspaper by Herbert Gayle, a social anthropologist at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona; and sections relating to Jamaica in the 2014 report of the USAID-supported biennial survey on attitudes towards democracy in Latin America.




On the issue of the campaign-finance legislation, it is not that anything in the law is particularly onerous. It caps spending by each candidate in an election campaign at J$15 million and by the central party at J$650 million, or J$10 million per constituency. Further, parties have to report to the ECJ contributions of J$250,000 or above; and the benchmark for making contributions public is J$1 million.

By these numbers, the parties would each be able to legitimately spend around J$1.5 billion on an election. We believe the spend substantially over the proposed allowable limit, which is far too high. The question, which explains the resistance to this modicum of accountability and transparency, is: Where does this money come from?

Put another way, irrational behaviour by otherwise rational people makes perfectly good sense, or value, to somebody. It's a perverse rationality. The immediate and grave danger in this situation, though, is that it is Jamaica's democracy that is being huckstered to special interests with the deepest pockets, whose resources are not necessarily legitimately acquired.

Such perceptions feed the notions of the illegitimacy of Jamaica's political process, reflected in the lowering voter turnouts at elections, which help give validity to alternative, even if sometimes illegal, institutions, such as gangs, which are now the major producers of criminal violence.

Jamaica's murder rate, at more than 50 per 100,000 population, Dr Gayle explained, is over the civil war threshold of 30/100,000. And he has traced the correlation between that rise, the deepening partisanship in Jamaican politics, the rise in gangs, and the inner-city communities - usually zones of political exclusion - where they mostly operate. Jamaica's crime problem annually pips around five per cent from GDP. This entrenches poverty.

Fixing the problem is complex, and will demand significant resources, too much of which are wasted in the murky side of political parties and their campaigns.