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Reigning in the gangs

Editorial: Not fit and proper

Published:Tuesday | September 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We expected that the Gangs of Gordon House would have reformed themselves and conformed to the rule of law and moral principles. We were mistaken! Others emulate their misbehaviour.

So, nearly four years after Jamaicans voted in a general election, 53.3 per cent of the candidates who contested seats haven't met their obligations to file the requisite returns on campaign expenditure - something they should have done within six weeks of the poll. Of the 80 persons who, up to last week, continued to flout the law, 62, or 77.5 per cent, were candidates for either the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) or the governing People's National Party (PNP), which each fielded 63 candidates. Eighteen or 22.5 per cent represented small parties or were independents.

A whopping 71.4 per cent of the JLP candidates - 45 of them - remained delinquent. Seventeen, or more than a quarter (27 per cent) of the PNP's standard bearers were similarly in breach of the Representation of the People Act.

What is significant about this squalid affair is that the disregard for fundamental principles can't be blamed on ignorant novices. Neither can the leadership of the parties claim to have been intolerant of those who didn't fulfil their legal and moral requirements. On the government side, for instance, among the recalcitrants is Lloyd B. Smith, who his party caused to be nominated and elected Deputy Speaker of the House, a position he still holds. This Mr Smith claimed - the cynics might say feigned - ignorance over whether his returns were filed.

Then there is the other Mr Smith - Derrick Smith - the long-sitting member of parliament and a former Cabinet minister. He is leader of Opposition Business in the House and the JLP's shadow security minister. This Mr Smith claimed it an oversight why his return was not filed. We might choose to believe him.

That, however, would not be an excuse open to a banker who failed to report to regulators the level of his non-performing loans or to meet any other obligations of law, passed in the legislature by people like the Mr Smiths. Such a banker would soon be deemed not fit and proper to work in the financial sector.


Not serious about reform


If the leaders of the Gangs of Gordon House are serious about reform, they would similarly deem persons with outstanding election expenditure returns not fit and proper to represent their parties in the next general election, as well as ensure that mechanisms are in place for the law to be followed after the next vote.

Indeed, this should be part of an election code of conduct in which they agree to file with the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) - and make public - all campaign funds raised by the central party as well as candidates, in keeping with the spirit of the proposed campaign finance law that is unlikely to be applicable to the next general election. As a handful of firms did in 2011, in the interest of transparency, private-sector contributors to the parties should also make their donations public.

Having the Gangs of Gordon House behave in accordance with law can't be left to self-regulation. They have to be rigorously monitored. In this event, the ECJ and the Electoral Office of Jamaica, whose job it is to police the parties, have been exceedingly permissive.