It has been most encouraging to see legislators with a conscience knocking the suggestion of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) for taxpayers to fund election campaigns.
The ECJ, in its report to Parliament which has now been passed and sent to the Cabinet for its consideration, has said the taxpayers should be called upon to provide more to protect the democratic process.
The ECJ commissioners, who remain a major drag on the taxpayers of this country with their posts paying $8 million, want the taxpayers to also fund national campaigns of persons seeking to serve in Parliament and to pay additional staff at the ECJ.
This is in addition to the billions spent on conducting elections and registering or reverifying the electorate and the amount lost through the provision of motor vehicle import waivers for election campaigning.
Taxpayers spent more than $1 billion in the last general election just for the holding of those polls.
In addition, the State was deprived of much-needed revenue in the 2011 general election, when the waivers were given for the importation of 206 motor vehicles for campaign purposes. The price tag on those waivers has not been made public.
ADDED PRESSURE ON BUDGET
But, seemingly, without conscience - or better yet divorced from the economic realities facing the country - the ECJ is proposing to move the campaign-spending limit from $3 million to $15 million, and to further give candidates who apply for state funding 40 per cent of the cost of running their campaigns.
If we were to use the last general election as a point of reference, we see where the ECJ, acting as if it wants to regulate the funding of elections, would be comfortable with $2.25 billion being spent purely for campaigning. Let's recall that 150 candidates ran in the last general election.
If all candidates seek and qualify for state financing, the taxpayers will be asked to find $900 million to cover this cost. Oh, how unconscionable the proposal is!
But we are not surprised by the outrageous proposal. The ECJ, because of its model, is subject to political manipulation. Because of its rich history of bringing respectability to the electoral process, the two leading political parties - which, admittedly, played a lead role in cleaning up the system they corrupted - have entrenched themselves in the commission in order to maintain the status quo of a two-party system. Thus, the taxpayers are called upon to make $8 million available to each of the four politicians, two each from the those two political parties.
We have little doubt that the offensive and unpalatable aspects of the report are the doing of the political parties, which see the national coffers as pork, and thus, they cannot resist the temptation of thrusting their snouts into the trough.
In its justification for state funding, the ECJ said it recognises such measures might act as "a valuable tool in protecting political equality of opportunity and electoral competition, thus creating 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".
It added: "Further, the commission is of the view that state funding can act as a mechanism to restrict or limit the influence of money from illegal sources, and its potential for corrupting and ultimately distorting the democratic process. State funding can serve as a hedge against candidates feeling obliged to turn to illegal sources or becoming obligated to certain permissible donors. State funding also allows for greater demands for transparency and accountability from candidates and, as a result, enhances confidence in the electoral and governance process."
But never mind the quest to create equality, the ECJ's grand idea of state funding would shut out most independent persons since they would not meet the criteria of having received at least five per cent of votes cast in the previous election.
Similarly, it would lock out third parties, as they, too, need to have secured at least five per cent of the votes the last time around.
So, notwithstanding voter apathy indicating that Jamaicans are tired of the People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party administering the affairs of the country, state funding would ensure change does not come.
This proposed state funding would not only bleed the taxpayer, but reinforce the two-party system of our politics, which would redound to the benefit of the parties themselves.
But again, The Gavel is not surprised, because this is the basis on which the ECJ board is currently constituted. We cannot ignore the fact that both parties have agreed to send party workers and operatives to the ECJ, at great expense to the taxpayers, to fashion the political system they want.
The fact is that self-interest is at the heart of many of the proposals, with the main aim being the further entrenchment of the two-party system. The politicians, who shop around these proposals and warn us that we ignore them at our peril, are like the motorist who believes he should get national honours after carrying an injured pedal cyclist to the hospital, despite the fact that motorist is responsible for carelessly running over the victim in the first place.
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