Peter Espeut | End the sham now!
How are our two major political parties funded? They would have us believe that their structure consists of branches or groups made up of thousands of loyal supporters (termed financial members) who pay dues that cover the operating costs of party offices and the salaries of party officers and staff. The impression they give is that it is only for annual party conferences or election campaigns that they need special donations (campaign financing).
But we know that this is only a sham. Most rank-and-file party members cannot afford party dues; it is the member of parliament/caretaker who has to raise funds to pay the dues of most of the branch/group members, some of whom become voting delegates at party conferences.
And the crowds bussed to party gatherings have to be fed, clothed, and given a stipend.
It would seem that almost every cent of party funds comes from political donations - 'quid' that demands a 'quo'.
So every MP, councillor and caretaker (and many underlings) become party fundraisers, just to keep the constituency and other offices open. And not all donations collected end up in party coffers. Party funds are held in multiple places, and not all in bank accounts. Annual financial reports from party treasurers do not (and maybe cannot) reflect all these cash centres. (I am not sure that anyone in the political parties knows their true gross income.)
Party functionaries visit every store and business place in the constituency soliciting donations, and it must be hard to separate this kind of fundraising from extortion.
And then we come to the jobs for the boys (and girls) and the contracts to party faithful paid from government funds. All these have to be inflated so that 'commission', 'appreciation', and 'finder's fees' (elsewhere they are called 'kickbacks') can be paid to the party connections. Some of this may end up in the formal and informal party coffers.
Some will term the above to be corruption (which it is), and others will call it 'the runnings'. This is how politics operates in Jamaica, and there is no movement to change it.
Recent efforts at reform in the area of political financing, even if they are eventually implemented (I wonder if even if these limited and inadequate measures will be realised in my lifetime?), will not change anything.
Parties will be required to publish their accounts annually, but will they disclose everything, or only income and expenses associated with their headquarters? And will these accounts be audited to determine their accuracy?
The coming 'reforms' will not require all donations to be declared, only those above a high threshold; I do not believe that donations made to directly to MPs and councillors and which do not pass through the party's accounts will ever be declared. These sham reforms will change nothing!
The public furore over the questionable arrangements at Petrojam, and the slap on the wrist given to Cabinet Minister Wheatley, indicate that the Jamaican public is intolerant of political corruption. I am encouraged by the recent statement by the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters' Association (JMEA), and the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC), calling for greater integrity and good governance in the public sector.
The PSOJ, the JMEA and the JCC have it within their power to end the sham, because it is funding from their members that greases Jamaica's corrupt political system. They can demand public disclosure of all political donations, and full transparency around the declaration of assets of politicians and senior public servants (presently done in secret) or no more political donations. It is only then that we will know whether they are really serious about ending corruption.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.