The business of 'money politics'

Published: Friday | May 18, 2012 Comments 0

Yannick Pessoa, Contributor

It's a never-ending battle to rid Jamaica's politics of corruption and to stymie a leading cause of this corruption, the financing of political parties, candidates and elections in the country since 1944.

The current condition has now become unbearable, as the practice has eroded the reputation and standing of the country, and the legitimacy of the political process.

Today, we have politicians who get the best media hype and electoral theatre money can buy. Finances determine which party must win, who should be the leader, who should be in the Cabinet and who should be the officers of the party. If you don't think it so, remember our family politics and how families and generations of politicians of a certain financial class have run Jamaica.

Money is a major, if not defining, issue in deciding the outcome of elections on the current world stage. This does not bode well for Jamaica, as we are now at the bottom of the world indices of corrupt, highly indebted and non-performing nations, owing to the pervasiveness and prevalence of our culture of 'money politics', which handicaps the State in tackling crime and corruption more effectively.

Influencing politicians

The recently published Turks & Caicos Islands Supreme Court confiscation order in the matter with Olint and David Smith's operations in Jamaica, where it says that donations were made to the PNP and JLP, is proof of the dangers of this reality.

Over time, financiers give to parties that they wish to win elections, or to both parties to ensure the protection of their special interests. The bankers, 'banksters', Ponzi schemers, mammon and the money masters, they are the puppeteers pulling the strings of the politician.

The other side of this coin is that parties or independent candidates who may not support special interests are, of course, denied financing. The following excerpt from former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who denied receiving any contributions from Olint, is in essence a history book of election financing in Jamaica:

"... In addition to the donations he had already given to both political parties, he had made hefty contributions to the JLP campaign in Central Manchester because he was determined to see the defeat of Peter Bunting. He admitted doing so because he claimed that Bunting had orchestrated the raid on his Kingston offices and he had heard that should the PNP win, Bunting could become the minister of finance and feared that he was out to destroy him."

Mr Patterson told him that Bunting denied any such involvement and Cabinet would not allow any member to pursue any such vendetta or action. Anything done would be in accordance with the law. He expressed great relief with that assurance.

We should now see the absolute necessity for campaign-finance reforms in order to help change our discredited political system and to rid the country of the old corrupt practice of 'money politics'.

Policy of disclosure

Information regarding the money contributed should be disclosed in order to strive for free and open elections. It cannot be denied that corporations play a larger role in the political process than may be appropriate. Corporations work for the benefit of their shareholders, seeking maximum return for minimum investment. Institutions work for the benefit of their members, seeking maximum pay for minimum work.

To make elections fair and balanced, we need to require that parties disclose their campaign financiers and fight against institutions that are continuing to choke the democratic process.

Campaign-finance reform is at once forbiddingly complex and seemingly irrelevant to most citizens' lives. People tend to see reform as affecting only the powerful - lobbyists, big corporations, fat cats - not ordinary joes. So as the public understands it, the dollar speaks louder than the vote.

The corrupting influence of money in politics is not limited to outright bribery or discreet quid pro quo. Campaign-finance reform has to consistently, sensibly and strategically focus on and address the more pervasive distortion of electoral institutions by concentrated wealth, on the special access and guaranteed favour that sap the representative integrity of Jamaican governments and defy public confidence in institutions.

Yannick Pessoa is a writer and graphic artist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and yannickpessoa@yahoo.com.

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