Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Praises for Private Sector from Civil Society

Published:Monday | September 12, 2016 | 9:00 AMRomario Scott
Peter Townsend
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The private sector executives who last week signaled that their companies would not be prepared to fund the election campaign of neither of the two political parties are receiving high praises from several quarters of civil society.

The Gleaner reported that Don Wehby and Richard Byles, chief executive officers of the GraceKennedy and the Sagicor Groups, respectively, have signaled that they will forego funding the campaigns of political parties because of the campaign-finance scandal now gripping the People's National Party (PNP).

They have insisted that the political parties must address the long-standing issues surrounding the implementation of the campaign finance legislation before there is any consideration to fund their political campaigns.

For that stance, Susan Goffe, civil society advocate, said, "They should be applauded. This has been something that we should have had a long time ago."

She says the pressure brought on by such a move should cause the regulations to be fast-tracked, a move she believes will ultimately benefit the country.

She is urging more companies to follow the lead and publicly declare that they will not give financial support to the political parties unless the issues are addressed.

MORE PRESSURE

"What I would like is to see more companies publicly declaring that they will not support the parties. More pressure would send the signal, and I would hope they (the parties) would respond," Goffe stated.

Peter Townsend, the chairman of the National Democratic Movement (NDM), too, showered the men with praises.

"I agree ... they should not give them one dime more until proper campaign-finance reform has been enacted, passed into law, and practiced," he said even while lamenting that "the private sector, has for years been funding a corrupt politics".

Added Townsend: "Regardless of what the PNP and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) want to say, withhold it (funding), until it comes into effect."

Minister Without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister Derrick Smith described the stance taken as "harsh and premature".

"They have gone a bit far down the road. It is a clear indication that they want to put the political parties under pressure, but I think it's an extreme position," he told The Gleaner.

But Townsend has criticised Smith for that view, saying: "He (Smith) has been in the system for a long time and that's the problem. They have been using the old system to their advantage and they do not want it to change."

MOCA INTERVENTION

The NDM leader said he was latching on to the call made by Wehby for the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) to intervene in the probe now being undertaken by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG).

"Based on the allegations that are being made by people in the PNP - who hold very high office - they cannot be seen as frivolous allegations, so I would think it is a matter for them. Some have been saying it's internal, but it is not internal because if a crime is committed in your house, you cannot say it's private and you are going to get private security to investigate it. It is a police matter," Townsend argued.

"I am happy that the OCG is involved, but I also believe that MOCA should get involved. The bigger issue, though, is for us to have a proper legislation and system," he continued.

Outspoken public commentator and attorney-at-law Dr Paul Ashley provided a starkly different view on the campaign finance matter.

He believes that that there are more than enough private-sector entities in Jamaica and abroad to help political parties even if a few have withdrawn their support.

"Politics and political parties cannot run without the contribution of the private sector, whether formal or informal. There are more than enough private sector entities that are willing, and have done in the past, to put it (funding) under the table and not declare their hands," Ashley contends.

Ashley believes that some who have stated formally that they will withhold support, will support their friends informally.

For him, nice and politically correct statements and rhetoric being floated by some belie the reality of the situation surrounding campaign funding.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com