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Don't delay election-funding reform

Published:Tuesday | September 22, 2015 | 10:21 AM

Below is a joint statement by Prof. Trevor Munroe, CD, executive director of National Integrity Action; William Mahfood, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica; and Donovan Walker, president of the Jamaican Bar Association.

As an election appears increasingly imminent, the public interest demands that the Government, with urgency, table the bill embodying agreed proposals on campaign-finance reform and the Parliament pass into law, provisions, long overdue and necessary, to advance more effective regulation of money in politics. The provisions proposed by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) , already debated and approved by Parliament in November 2011, and in 2013, the latter with recommendations, propose, among other things , that:

n Contributions from foreign governments, foreign government entities or unregulated financial organisations be banned;

n The identities of big donors and contributions with large government contracts be disclosed;

n A limit be set on how much money can be spent in any election by candidates and by parties;

n A limit be set on how much any individual can contribute to any candidate or party;

n The establishment of a robust system of monitoring and enforcement, with enforcement of appropriate penalties for violations.

The report from the ECJ embodyingthese recommendations and taking into account comments and opinions of members of the House and the Senate, as expressed in debate, was sent to, and approved by, the Parliament two years ago. Moreover, an extensive consultative process by the ECJ, stretching over five years, preceded this final report. This consultative process included:

n Town hall meetings in Montego Bay and Mandeville to discuss the issue of campaign-finance reform.

n Meetings with representatives of civil-society organisations, including: Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections, the President Council of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaican Bar Association, Press Association of Jamaica, Umbrella Group of Churches, Women's Research and Outreach Centre, the Women's Political Caucus, National Integrity Action, Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and the Jamaica Bankers' Association.

n A conference hosted with the Organisation of American States, Caribbean Regional Meeting of Political Party and Campaign Financing, on September 2 and 3, 2010.

n Invited political representatives of major political parties and returning officers who meet monthly in the 63 constituencies to submit suggestions and recommendationson campaign finance.

n Extensive internal discussion within each of the major political parties.

This ECJ-led process followed endorsement by the Senate of resolutions to regulate campaign finance in May 2002, and again in October 2006. To the credit of the Government and Parliament, one dimension of political financing was passed into law with the ROP (Amendment) Act 2014, which requires the registration of political parties, the reporting of their financial statements, and provides for limited state funding, on condition that the parties meet certain obligations, including submission of annual budgets and audited financial statements to annual general meetings. The companion legislation dealing with campaign-finance is now urgent.

As the Gleaner editorial of September 5 2015 asked, in the context of election spending, "where does all that money come from ... ? If donors are criminals or big businesses intent on hijacking the politician, he or she will forever be trying to repay them for donations made." More pointedly, an editorial in The Gleaner, September 8, observed: "... 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 is urgent, therefore, that we move to introduce campaign-finance legislation, including limits on what parties and candidates can spend."

The continued absence of regulation, providing for a level of transparency, facilities speculation such as "whether the Chinese are financially supporting both parties in the upcoming general elections" (letter to the editor, Gleaner, September 8, 2015). The total lack of openness regarding political-party election funding keeps the electorate in the dark, fuels distrust of parties among large sections of our people, and separates Jamaica from the world of modern democracy.

Our country has a strong international reputation for robust electoral administration, developed over many years. Enhancing this reputation and, at the same time, strengthening Jamaica's system of democratic governance for the benefit of our people, now demand that the Government and Parliament delay no further in the statutory regulation of campaign financing.

The NIA, PSOJ and Jamaican Bar Association are ready and willing to sit with Government and political parties to sort out, expeditiously any obstacle to immediate passage of campaign-finance legislation.