Sat | Oct 21, 2017

Editorial | Accelerate election finance regime

Published:Monday | September 25, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Prime Minister Andrew Holness' attempt at scolding Donna Parchment Brown for her presumed meddling in matters in which he believes she has no place, reminds us that there is unfinished business to enhance political transparency and limit the ability of special interests to install the best democracy their money can buy.

Or put differently, it is past time for the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) to begin to enforce the registration of political parties and the obligations that go with this, including the publication of their financial returns and the reporting of campaign contributions. The latter requirement is especially apt at this time, given the imminence of three by-elections, including one for the constituency of South East St Mary, a comment upon which Mr Holness sought to put Mrs Parchment Brown, the political ombudsman, in her place.

The ombudsman's concern were with complaints that a J$629-million road repair in St Mary may have been timed and skewed to give an advantage to Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party, similar to what was claimed when the Government spent a similar amount of money on community infrastructure projects on the eve of last November's municipal elections.

Mr Holness has made clear that when it comes to contracts awarded by the Government, he answers to the National Contracts Committee and the contractor general. The latter's office polices these contracts to ensure that rules are followed and to deter corruption.

Implicit in the PM's observation is that Mrs Parchment Brown's office should keep to the business of whether political parties adhere to the codes of behaviour to which they are agreed. This newspaper, however, believes that an expansive interpretation of Mrs Parchment Brown's mandate, rightfully, provides the remit for her to comment on matters such as the St Mary issue, even if the formal law hasn't yet caught up with the exigencies of the time.

There is an area where, paradoxically, legislators, notwithstanding the fact they were slow to get up to speed, have outpaced the agency that is intended to enforce the law. Four months ago, Parliament approved the regulations for the monitoring of political parties, which are to finally cap a more-than-decade-old effort to put in place a system for how political parties and their campaigns may be funded, and by whom.

 

Campaign finance bill

 

Fourteen months previously, legislators had approved a campaign finance bill. That law establishes how much money individuals and firms can give to political parties as well as establishes a threshold for the amounts at which these donations have to be made public. If that law was operational, the company that won the St Mary's roadworks contract would have had to report whether it made contributions to political parties, or be barred from such a deal with the Government.

Unfortunately, the regime for the operationalisation of the law is not in place. That is, we don't know whether the requisite forms have been printed, the formal register of political parties established, if staff has been hired and trained to enforce the law, and the budget in place to fund this new element of the country's electoral arrangements. There has been no public statement on the matter, either by the ECJ or its operational arm, the Electoral Office of Jamaica.

Advancing these arrangements, this newspaper insists, is an important step to the strengthening of Jamaica's still-evolving democracy. Recent events should remind the ECJ of the urgency of the matter and its obligation to inform the public on how it is proceeding.