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Editorial: Scruffy underbelly of political money

Published:Monday | September 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Anyone wanting an idea of the future of the underbelly of Jamaican politics needs only read of what, on the surface, are entirely reasonable observations by three young practitioners about the difficulty of financing their efforts. They should pay special attention to the remarks of the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Delano Seiveright, who hopes to contest the Eastern St Thomas seat at the next election against the incumbent, Fenton Ferguson.

Two things immediately strike you about the comments made by Mr Seiveright, his JLP colleague Floyd Green, and Dayton Campbell, a first-term MP representing the governing People's National Party in North West St Ann. One is that the underbelly appears likely to remain decidedly seamy.

The second issue relates to the first. It is that while lamenting the personal financial burden of their political engagement, none appeared eager to overhaul the status quo. It is rather surprising that the debate over state financing of political parties and their campaigns wasn't the starting point of the discussion for any of the three. The subject didn't even figure in their reported statements.

According to Mr Seiveright, he spends between J$250,000 and J$500,000 monthly to sustain his campaign. That translates to between J$3 million and J$6 million a year. Over the summer, he said, the cost was $1.6 million - his bill for paying for water for constituents and being part of a tour with the JLP's leader, Andrew Holness.

Unlike Mr Seiveright, the other two, unfortunately, did not provide specific numbers, but made it clear that the process was expensive.

"It's really hard for a young candidate, especially one who is a young professional trying to earn a decent standard of living," said Mr Green. And especially, we would add, if you are not inclined to break the old mould of politics by patronage and are willing to accept any negative consequences for so doing.

We do not believe that we are unfair to Mr Seiveright in arguing that a $1.6-million summer bill represents the perpetuation of the politics of patronage by the aspiring MP. He, essentially, is seeking to buy his way into winning columns by paying for water for residents and however else the money was circulated during Mr Holness' tour.


spirit of volunteerism


In the language of Dr Campbell, the larger "mission is to take people from poverty to prosperity", which sometimes calls on people's spirit of volunteerism. But Mr Seiveright was candid that it often demands more. He has regular donors.

But there is no transparency regarding these donors: of who they are, how much they give, or of their expectations should Mr Seiveright become a member of parliament, or more, if he sits in the Cabinet. This consideration, of course, does not apply only to Delano Seiveright, but all persons seeking election to Parliament and the political parties they represent.

An absence of transparency about who funds candidates, parties and political campaigns could make Jamaica one of those democracies that people with the deepest pockets can buy.

It's urgent, therefore, that we move to introduce campaign-finance legislation, including limits on what parties and their candidates can spend. Candidates, too, should eschew the politics of patronage and the casting of themselves as private benefactors.