Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
A PROPOSAL that taxpayers contribute to an election fund has been shot down by government Senator K.D. Knight, who said it would represent an unwise use of resources.
Contributing to a debate in the Upper House yesterday, Knight said it did not matter to him whether or not his comment was considered controversial.
"When I pay my taxes, I want to see certain services provided by the Government so that my fellow Jamaicans can drive on good roads, children go to school, hospitals, and so on. I am not in favour, whatsoever, of one cent of my tax dollar going to anything called campaign-finance fund. I am totally against it," Knight declared.
In its report to Parliament, which has already been passed in the House of Representatives, and is now being debated by the Senate, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) said state funding may act as a valuable tool in protecting political equality of opportunity and electoral competition. The election oversight body said this would create a level playing field by enabling new and small parties and persons of modest means to offer themselves as candidates and compete with parties or candidates who are dominant and, perhaps, are more financially viable.
Government Senator Wensworth Skeffery said he was in support of state funding of campaigns as proposed in the ECJ report, but questioned the practicality of bringing it on stream.
"It means that, given limited resources, we would have to recraft our Budget to carry this, and I think it is an argument, if we accept it as a House, we will have to have the correct answers to sell to the people of Jamaica," Skeffery said.
He noted that in light of the current economic woes, the Government has not been able to respond to many social ills, and while it was desirable to do everything to preserve the country's democracy, a national campaign fund may be unpalatable.
In the meantime, Knight has pledged to lead a fight against a proposal from the ECJ to impose a ban on persons found in breach of contravening campaign-financing laws.
The ECJ said it wants the powers to "impose sanctions and penalties on political parties and candidates".
"Such sanctions and penalties shall include, but shall not be limited to, public apologies, return of contributions, fines, being debarred from participating in elections whether temporarily for a fixed period of time or permanently, being disqualified from being a candidate, forfeiting contributions or donations, including donations to the National Election Campaign Fund, being suspended as a registered political party, and being struck off the list of registered political parties," the proposal added.
Knight yesterday responded to the proposal with an "unequivocal no!"
"I think they have gone too far," he said. "That can have a serious effect on how Government operates in our democracy."
He also took issue with a proposal from the ECJ that an imposition of a sanction or penalty by the commission shall not preclude institution of criminal proceedings for contravening the campaign-financing provisions.
The Senate will resume debate on the report next Friday.