Fri | Jan 18, 2019

Editorial | Make political parties feel the pinch

Published:Thursday | January 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It's the multibillion-dollar secret that everybody knows but few want to admit: Big business is a major funder of political parties. And that's an important platform from which civic-minded enterprises can leverage the transformation of Jamaica's body politic, reorient the ethos that underpins governance, and crucially, invoke the will to cripple crime, which is a drag on gross domestic product and a source of social instability.

At least John Mahfood seems to think so.

Mr Mahfood, a successful businessman and CEO of Jamaican Teas, has, in recent months, been sounding the alarm about the country's crime crisis and drumming up support for his one-man band. He has written letters and paid for full-page advertisements cajoling the government to act. His campaign has received muted response.

But perhaps the most pithy and poignant note of his advocacy was delivered earlier this month when he urged the business community to use their political and economic capital to arm-wrestle the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) into consensus and collaboration on staunching the rivers of blood that stain this country.

Mr Mahfood said of private-sector political backers: "They are the ones who fund elections, and that is the thing that most inspires politicians. They do not use the power that they have to get things done, so they are partly to blame for the same problem affecting the economy.

"The people who pay them the money to be re-elected, those are the people who have power and those are the people who are not using it. All the big companies on the stock exchange pay massive amounts of money in political contributions. These organisations need to come together and put a strong position to the Government and Opposition, and say, unless you are able to come together and do this, we are going to withhold political contributions, or we are going to give it to the party that shows that it has a crime plan," he said.

We doubt that Plan B to fund the parties exclusively on the basis of a crime plan will elicit much traction from the business community, but we impress upon them to give a second look to his proposal to withhold funding. The funding of political parties and campaigns has largely operated in the shadows of back rooms with loads of cash stuffed into brown paper bags. Where there has been a trace, party bookkeepers closely guard the numbers, fuelling the perception that political sponsorship is masquerading as influence peddling.


Ending secrecy


New legislation will mandate the declaration of funding to political parties, putting paid to some of the secrecy, although some loopholes still exist.

The JLP and PNP have shown themselves to be political animals often singularly concerned with one-upmanship in election cycles. Private-sector backers, some of which have publicly revealed their donations in the last two general elections, must be prepared to dangle the carrot and swing the stick in order to make an unprecedented assault on crime and violence.

Primarily, they should insist on tying down the parties to commit to a game-changing investment in the investigative and forensic capacity of the police force and a time-bound injection of capital into the buildout of courtroom space and beefing up of the numbers of judges to try cases. We suspect the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, and the Jamaica Bankers' Association, among others, have all been hit by the malfunctioning of their fax machines and email servers why correspondence of support hasn't flooded in. Even if they might not support every jot and tittle of Mr Mahfood's proposal, the greater point of using their financial muscle to press for change can't have escaped the business elite.