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Pressure on parties: Proposed law threatens sanctions if political camps fail to disclose accounts

Published:Wednesday | September 10, 2014 | 9:00 AM
Trevor Munroe
K.D. Knight-FILE photos
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Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

Provisions have been crafted in a bill tabled before Parliament yesterday that could result in the deregistration of delinquent political parties.

At the same time, the legislation would offer taxpayer assistance for the financing of political parties, a move which disregards objections put forward last year by a senior government lawmaker.

The financing provision would give effect to recommendations of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).

After years of gestation, the bill titled 'An Act to Amend the Representation of the People Act' was tabled in the House of Representatives yesterday which would, if passed by legislators, introduce measures for the registration, regulation and funding of the political parties.

" … The amount approved by Parliament for state funding shall be divided equally among the political parties that qualify to receive state funding," states the bill.

The proposed statute indicates that the "commission shall pay to each political party the money it is entitled to receive pursuant to this act, out of funds approved by Parliament for the purpose of state funding, and made available to the Consolidated Fund".

During a debate in the Senate in October 2013, government Senator K.D. Knight charged that his tax dollar should not be used to fund political parties.

Knight called the ECJ's proposal to use state funds to finance political parties an unwise move, saying it did not matter whether his comments were controversial.

Under the proposed Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2014, a registered political party shall not receive as state funding in any financial year more than 40 per cent of its income for the previous financial year.

At the same time, provisions in the bill make it clear that the law does not prevent political parties from lawfully obtaining money or benefits from sources other than the State.

Yesterday, head of National Integrity Action, Professor Trevor Munroe, called for the Government and Parliament to give urgent priority to the passage of long-pending anti-corruption legislation.

The legislative measures highlighted for urgent passage by Munroe are the political party registration and funding, campaign finance reform, and the Integrity Commission bill, which was tabled in the House earlier this year.

His comments came against the background of corruption remaining one of the top three "most problematic factors for doing business in Jamaica", despite the island's improvement in international competitiveness rank, according to the just-released 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Report.

Under the proposed amended Representation of the People Act, the executive officers of every registered political party shall nominate an officer of the party to be designated as the "accountable officer", who shall certify all returns and financial statements.

In addition, the officer shall be responsible to the commission for all financial affairs of the political party, including the filing of an annual report of the party. The accountable officer will also be required to notify the commission of all financial institutions in which the party maintains accounts and the nature and purpose of the accounts.

Tough provisions are set out in the bill, which could lead to the deregistration of political parties that flout the law.

The ECJ may deregister political parties where they refuse to submit annual reports or fail to submit financial records to the auditor following an instruction from the commission to do so as set out in the bill.

A party can also be deregistered if it fails to nominate a candidate for three consecutive elections (other than by-elections) since the time of its first registration under the act as a political party.

Under the proposed statute, a register of political parties shall be established, which will be open to inspection by any member of the public at the offices of the commission or on a website maintained by the ECJ.

State funding to be used solely for the following purposes:

a. The development of the political party.

b. The offsetting of the operating expenses of the party.

c. Party recruitment and civic education.

d. Research and policy development of the political party.

e. Education and training of members of the political party.