Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Trevor Munroe | Completing the campaign finance marathon

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2017 | 6:00 AM
Trevor Munroe

 

My late professor and colleague, Rex Nettleford, told me once, when he was supervising my master's thesis many decades ago, that transforming Jamaica was not a sprint, which we are good at, but a marathon, which we rarely run, but had better learn to do.

Jamaica is now approaching the last lap in a marathon and needs to be commended for staying the course. On May 17, 2017, the House of Representatives passed the Political Parties Registration Regulations. These regulations are necessary to give effect to the Registration of Political Parties Act passed three years ago. What remains in order to hit the tape are the regulations to accompany the Campaign Finance Reform Act passed in February 2016. Together, political party registration and campaign finance reforms shall:

- Require a political party to submit annual financial reports to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.

- Set limits on how much an individual can give to a party and how much a party can spend.

- Ban donations from OLINT or Cash Plus-type organisations.

- Require disclosure of big donors and contributions from persons with government contracts above a certain level.

- Ban anonymous donations and contributions from foreign governments.

- Bar public-sector entities from campaign-related advertising.

- Introduce limited and regulated public funding.

- Establish a robust monitoring and enforcement system, including granting the ECJ power to deregister political parties in breach of the law.

When Jamaica hits the tape, this shall be a first, not only for our country, but also for the Caribbean.

The marathon began in May 2002 when the Senate passed my resolution calling for a national commission on political party funding. In the course of the second lap, November 2003, Edward Seaga, then leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), charged that "tainted money" influenced the internal JLP elections.

By the following year, on May 19, 2004, the then minister of national security confirmed the connection between politicians and drug money. In April 2005, then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson called for an appropriate regime of party regulation and political funding for Jamaica.

 

New lap

 

On April 12, 2006, a new lap in the marathon was completed: the governor general of Jamaica in the Throne Speech declared that the Government "intends to give priority attention to the transparent and realistic financing of political parties". And in October of the same year, the Senate again passed another resolution in which I moved that "the Electoral Advisory Committee ... table a report in Parliament within two weeks setting out ... recommendation for ... the registration of political parties, appropriate disclosure and transparency requirements with respect to election funding ...".

With the failure to legislate those requirements prior to the 2007 election, unknown to the Jamaican people, while under a cease-and-desist order from the Financial Services Commission, the subsequently self-confessed, convicted and imprisoned money launderer David Smith contributed US$5m to the Jamaica Labour Party and US$2m to the People's National Party, as set out in the Turks and Caicos Islands Supreme Court Confiscation Order (April 2012). In October 2006 as well, the revelation of the contribution of the Dutch oil firm Trafigura to the People's National Party stimulated consensus in the media, among civil-society groups and the private sector on the necessity to speed up political party and financing regulations.

'Speed up', in the marathon, meant that in November 2010, Parliament approved the Electoral Commission of Jamaica's report on political party registration. Then, in April 2012, Parliament approved, "with concerns", the report and recommendations of the ECJ on campaign finance reform. These concerns were considered and a second ECJ report on campaign finance reform was debated and approved by the House in September 2013, and by the Senate in November 2014. In February 2013, Minister Paulwell, then leader of government business in the House, replied to a letter from me in which he stated, in part: "I expect that campaign finance reform will be promulgated by the end of the first half of 2014."

 

Three risks to democracy

 

The ECJ itself said, in November 2011, that unregulated money poses three risks to democracy: control of candidates by financiers; dirty or illicit money corrupting the system; and uneven playing field, those with less money being less competitive. I would add that the most significant danger in the complete absence of regulations is that big money, commercial or criminal, can exert undue influence and get favours from politicians in terms of the awards of contracts/subcontract, the granting of tax waivers, the unjustified issuance of licences and approvals, protection from law enforcement, and unmerited appointments to public boards and offices.

Without regulations, it's 'open sesame' for the powerful corrupt. Even with regulations, ways are found to circumvent the law. It is no accident that in 51 of a 107 countries in 2013 (Global Corruption Barometer), the political party was regarded as the most corrupt institution among the majority of the citizens in the US, UK, Germany, etc.

We should be clear that after we hit the tape, likely in another few weeks, a second shall begin to enforce the laws and to strengthen the shortcomings in our political party registration and campaign finance legislation.

- Professor Trevor Munroe is executive director of National Integrity Action. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tmunroe@niajamaica.org.