Campaign financing bill doomed

Published: Thursday | January 24, 2013 Comments 0

By Devon Dick

ACCORDING TO a recent Gleaner report, the proposed legislation to deal with campaign financing for political parties will not be tabled in the House of Representatives this legislative year (January 14). Phillip Paulwell, leader of government business in the House of Representatives, said the Government intends to first table a bill for the registration of political parties during this parliamentary year before considering a similar bill on campaign financing.

It is not clear why we cannot have registration of political parties and campaign finance bill simultaneously. It appears that the delay in the bill might have more to do with financial realities and International Monetary Fund (IMF) stricture than inability to multitask.

The proposal from the Electoral Commission of Jamaica is for government funding of political parties for specific purposes. However, there is no money and it cannot be accommodated in next year's budget either. Therefore, delaying it for the next legislative year means than it could be considered for 2014-2015 budget. Assuming we get a three-year IMF deal, there will be no possibility of allocation to political parties for its operations, much less campaigning.

As it stands, political parties get funding from taxpayers through waivers on motor vehicles to be used during the general election campaign. This, too, is slated to go under a new IMF agreement. Reality is facing our two major political parties. I have repeatedly stated in my writings, speeches and at fora discussing campaign financing that the taxpayers cannot fund political parties operations and/or electioneering.

In fact, there is no need for it, and with more prudent management of seasonal general election funds, it is possible for our major political parties to be viable. The advertising budgets could easily be cut by 50 per cent. And there could be more town-hall meetings and interaction with people in their settings. It is estimated that $2 billion was spent in the last general election; therefore, it is possible that they could have another $200 million to carry them through the lean periods when there is no general election.

Therefore, what is needed is for there to be legislation concerning the disclosure of the source and sums of campaign funding. During the last general election in 2011, there were small steps in that direction with four companies declaring the sums of money donated.

NO CHANGE

A year ago, The Gleaner Council called for:

1. All candidates to respect the law by truthfully and punctually making the required declarations on campaign expenditures in all constituencies, as required by the Representation of People's Act.

2. Both parties to voluntarily declare their expenses incurred during the recent election campaign.

3. The new Parliament to pass into law in 2012 the long-standing proposed legislation on political campaign financing.

4. For all donors to political parties to voluntarily declare their donations so as to build a culture of transparency, which is what Jamaica needs.

Unfortunately, nothing has happened. The excuse that donors will be discriminated against does not hold water because everybody knows most of the donors and there is no evidence of victimisation. And those four companies which publicly declared their contributions to the political parties are not complaining about ill effects of the declaration. The additional benefit of public declaration is that it would mitigate against persons with questionable character and sinister motives holding parties to ransom and demanding waivers and contracts in return.

Since the campaign finance bill in its present form is doomed, let us work for a bill that demands disclosure of source of funds and sums of funds for political parties.

Rev Dr Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. Send comments to:columns@gleanerjm.com

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