NIA's stance on campaign financing bill a 'sell-out', says Espeut; Under-attack anti-corruption group defends position on planned campaign financing reform
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
The corruption watchdog agency, National Integrity Action (NIA), is defending its support of the proposed campaign financing legislation that will allow political parties to continue accepting money from donors without making public disclosure of the contributions even while accepting state funding.
With some critics arguing that the fight against corruption demands that political parties make public the donors, the proposed legislation which should be before Parliament early next year provides that contributions above $250,000 should be reported to a subcommittee of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ).
This has not gone done well with some critics, but executive director of the NIA, Professor Trevor Munroe, last Wednesday argued that the proposed legislation is a step in the right direction.
"These are steps forward, not the completion of the journey," said Munroe as he responded to public commentator, Peter Espeut, who used a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum to take the sword to the NIA.
According to Espeut, the NIA has compromised its anti-corruption posture by endorsing provisions permitting the non-disclosure of contributions.
"I can only think of the word sell-out ... I had great expectation and hope for NIA and I must confess that those have been dashed," declared Espeut.
A first step
But Munroe countered, saying that the position adopted by the NIA, while not ideal, is a first step in breaking the back of electoral corruption.
"It is always a difficult issue to determine whether it is a justifiable or unjustifiable compromise," said Munroe.
He suggested that in the Jamaican context, there is an urgent need to crack open doors to secrecy, as well as funds being donated to political parties, or placing a limit on the amounts.
Munroe contended that the provisions in the bill have directed attention to disclosure of the amount of funds being contributed.
He noted that under the proposed legislation, some donors such as failed investment schemes Olint and Cash Plus, and some foreign entities will be banned from make donations to local political organisations.
Under the proposals, donations are banned from foreign or Commonwealth governments or their agents or agencies, whether directly or indirectly; public institutions, statutory bodies, government and quasi-government organisations or any company with government capital shares; private companies performing a public service with a contract which exceeds $500,000; enterprises and other organisations exercising public authority; or illegal entities
The legislation also proposes that where a contribution/donation of an amount of $250,000 or more is accepted, the political party, or the candidate, shall issue a receipt for the donation to the donor in the form prescribed by the ECJ.
But Espeut was not satisfied with Munroe's response. He argued that the NIA had no right to support any provision which allows political parties to disclose only donations above a certain level to the ECJ as this would be open to corruption.
"I was very disappointed with how NIA ended up with the position that they took in the end," said Espeut.
"It would be unconscionable to allow the secret contributions to continue and then on top of that to have public money being put into campaigns, and that is exactly what the NIA has agreed to."
He suggested that the idea of public financing of political parties came about because Jamaicans are well aware of the influence that can be peddled by those who make financial donations to the parties.
"People give campaign contributions and expect something in return, and NIA said quite openly that we got to break this cycle of corruption by having these contributions made public so that if a company makes a contribution and there is a benefit, it would be there for all to see," declared Espeut.