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Editorial: Campaign finance first step

Published:Sunday | November 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM

William Mahfood is on point. The campaign-finance bill tabled in Parliament last week doesn't go far enough.

For, as the businessman and president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) framed it, Jamaica would do well with "complete transparency in all areas of governance". That we will not get in this legislation.

Under the proposed law, which is an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, registered political parties and their candidates for elections will have to report to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) donations and contributions of J$250,000 or more. But the benchmark for making contributions public is J$1 million, or around US$8,400.

Further, these report regulations kick in during the so-called 'campaign period', which begins on the day an election is announced, or the start of the 55th month of the regular 60-month life of the Parliament, and runs up to 24 hours before the day of the vote. Clearly, anyone with the intent and the will hardly has to search for the loopholes through which to circumvent the rules.

But, in the circumstance, we are not intended to, as they say, make the good, or in this case, the start towards it, the enemy of the best. In this respect, a number of factors have to be taken into account.

The first of these is our and other people's wariness of the impact of tainted and special-interest money on Jamaica's electoral process and their maintenance of the Gangs of Gordon House. If unchecked, it will soon become unabashedly, and vulgarly so, that Jamaica's democracy is one of those that is on the shelf for those with the deepest pockets - and with scant regard for the source of their money.

Further, as Mr Mahfood remarked, even legitimate contributors to political parties tend to be wary of anyone, especially the other side, knowing of their gifts. They fear victimisation by whoever forms government.

The parties like it that way. It allows for an opaque system, in which a party's official fundraising mechanism can account for an inflow of J$300 million, but it is estimated to have spent around J$1.5 billion on an election. It is a short route from this place to corruption in its broadest sense.

We, therefore, support this bill as a first step; the beginning of a process to the kind of transparency that Mr Mahfood, and many other people, know that Jamaica deserves.




So, we expect that lowering the benchmark for reporting and publicising contributions will be part of an ongoing campaign by the PSOJ and other civil-society groups. In the interim, the PSOJ, as the leading private-sector body, should call on its members to voluntarily declare their contributions, including those made outside the campaign period, to political parties and their candidates, as four firms did in the lead-up to the 2011 general election.

Further, civil-society organisations must continue to insist on other legislation regarding state financial support for political parties, which would demand more stringent accounting for their resources, including the provision of audited accounts.

Clearly, even the limited reforms before Parliament, even if passed now, won't be formally ready for the imminent elections. However, the parties, as part of their agreed Code of Conduct, should undertake to abide by the provision of the law, promising even to open their books to the ECJ.