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ECJ convention broken - Gov't to say no to state funding of campaigns

Published:Thursday | November 5, 2015 | 11:00 AMDaraine Luton
Phillip Paulwell
Everald Warmington
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A long-established convention of Parliament following the dictates and wishes of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) is to be broken, with the Government indicating it will not be supporting a provision for state funding of political parties that has been proposed in the campaign-finance reform bill.

Phillip Paulwell, leader of government business in the House of Representatives, said Cabinet has already advised the ECJ that it will not support the clause for state funding of political campaigns.

"The Jamaican electorate now, they are very mindful and very cagey about political parties receiving funds from the state," Paulwell told The Gleaner. "Based on the canvassing, it is not a matter that the electorate would support, and so we didn't want to upset and anger the electorate."

"Having reviewed it, we would not be able to convince our side to support it," he added.

TRADITIONALLYADOPTEDREPORTS

As part of a move to preserve the integrity of the electoral process, Parliament has always passed bills and adopted reports of the ECJ without making amendments to them.

South West St Catherine Member of Parliament Everald Warmington, who strenuously objected to the proposal for state funding of political parties, said while "the convention is not worth the paper on which it is written", it would be a bad thing for the Government to go against the ECJ at this stage.

"If they send to us and make recommendations and we observe it all the while, I don't believe we should break it now, especially on a fundamental issue as that," Warmington said.

Paulwell said the Government has reached out to the selected commissioners on the ECJ - Dorothy Pine McLarty, Earl Jarrett, Justice Karl Harrison and Professor Alvin Wint - to get support for the amendment.

"I have already written to the selected members of the ECJ and I do believe they will give support," he said.

The proposal for the state to fund political campaigns was robustly debated in the Houses of Parliament when a report from the ECJ, with proposals for campaign-finance reform, was considered.

The contentious clause proposes that a registered political party that meets certain requirements, including having its annual financial statements independently audited by a registered public accountant, be entitled to receive state funding in each financial year.

It is also proposing that a registered political party receive, in any financial year, up to 40 per cent of its income for the previous financial year.

However, despite howls of protest from some members of parliament and senators, among them Warmington and K.D. Knight, the report was approved without amendment, paving the way for the drafting of a bill to provide for, among other things, the state to fund political campaigns.

"Most people (MPs) agreed that the state should fund campaigns. I don't agree with it, but the Parliament majority voted for it," Warmington said.

"If you have put it in the bill, I am not supporting any amend-ment. It came to Parliament and they accepted the report. I was the only person who voted against it then, so if you have 62 persons who voted for the report in its entirety, how can you talk about not wanting to go with it at this stage," he added.

Should the state-funding clause be removed, it will mean that only one other designated pool of funds would be available to political candidates to pay for campaign activities.

In addition to state funding, the bill also proposes the setting up of a national election fund, which would enable individuals, companies, other entities and Jamaica diaspora groups to make contributions to campaign financing.

These monies would be disbursed to candidates within 180 days after an election is held, for the purposes of reimbursing expenses incurred by the candidates in their campaigns. Up to 40 per cent of the amount spent by each candidate may be reimbursed from the national campaign fund.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com