A shameful exposure
The headline of The Gleaner on Monday, September 28, blared: 'POLITICAL LAWBREAKERS' with a screaming subdeck declaring 'More than half of 2011 candidates yet to disclose election spending'.
It is nothing short of scandalous that of the 63 Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidates in the December 2011 general election, 45, or about 71.4 per cent, apparently believed they had no obligation to file returns to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) as stipulated by the Representation of the People Act (ROPA).
These JLP candidates, including Derrick Smith a senior lawmaker and leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives are in a chronic state of delinquency in relation to the filing of their 2011 returns, which should provide details about contributions and donations made to them during the election campaign period. Smith told The Gleaner that he intended to file his return as soon as possible. "I usually comply with all the requirements, but this was an obvious oversight," he said. Mr Smith, this is not good enough. With six general election wins under his belt and more than 24 years as a member of parliament with senior responsibility as leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives, Smith ought not to find himself in this embarrassing position, but should be an example for younger candidates in the JLP.
At the same time, 17 of the 63 candidates of the governing People's National Party (PNP) who contested the 2011 general election have ignored the law and did not bother to file their returns. Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Lloyd B. Smith, who was named by the ECJ in 2012 for not filing his returns, was unsure as to whether he had filed. He told The Gleaner that the financial aspects of his campaign were not dealt with by him.
If this was not a serious matter that raises fundamental questions of transparency and accountability in the electoral process, I would suggest that Messrs Lloyd B. Smith and Derrick Smith's explanations be more appropriately reserved for a comedy show.
The ECJ reported that only 80 of the 150 candidates filed returns, which means that independent candidates and members of third parties have also been found wanting.
It is disconcerting that at a time when the Internal and External Affairs Committee of Parliament is seeking to shine the proverbial floodlight on civil society groups in relation to the sources of their funding, some parliamentarians find themselves indecently exposed.
While I have no objection to the substance of the motion moved by government backbencher Raymond Pryce, it is laughable that Derrick Smith, who chairs the Internal and External Affairs Committee, would dare to speak with much conviction on the question of transparency, among civil society groups, when he has failed to comply with a pivotal provision in ROPA that goes to the heart of transparency in the political process.
Lawmakers do not have the luxury of saying they do not remember to satisfy such a critical requirement of filing their returns within the stipulated timeframe after an election and expect members of the public to take them seriously.
It is not the first time that members of the two main political parties, and other candidates of third parties and independents, have flagrantly flouted the law by ignoring the provision in the ROPA, which mandates them to file returns to the ECJ six weeks after an election.
All candidates in the 2011 general election were required to file returns by March 16, 2012. However, three years and approximately seven months later, 80 of the 150 candidates who participated in the process have apparently unashamedly remain in violation of the law.