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KD backs Warmington

Published:Monday | April 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

Government Senator K.D. Knight on Friday added his voice to those critical of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) proposals on campaign financing.

Knight appeared to have formed an alliance with St Catherine South Western Member of Parliament Everald Warmington, who, during a presentation in the Lower House on Tuesday, blasted the ECJ.

At that time, Warmington argued that the ECJ has proposed for itself substantive powers which should rightly reside in the courts of the land.

This position was endorsed by Knight, who argued that the ECJ was setting itself up to be judge, legislators, police and the Cabinet combined.

According to Knight, while praise should be given to the work of the commission, and while its objectives were noble, the path to achieving them were "troubling".

He said the commissioners were overstepping their bounds in seeking to advance critical campaign-reform proposals.

"It is arrogating to itself powers which I don't think any commission in Jamaica should have. And I don't think any commission in Jamaica can have, having regard to our constitutional framework.

"I see for example the commission taking on judicial functions; with that in two capacities I must disagree, one as a legislator, and two, as a lawyer," stated Knight.

'Taking on police functions'

According to the government senator, it appears that "the commission is taking on police functions".

In the report now before Parliament, the ECJ wants powers to monitor and enforce legislation and accompanying regulations.

"For all offences involving the contravention of the regulatory provision relating to campaign financing, the Electoral Commission shall have the power to impose sanctions and penalties on political parties and candidates. Such sanctions and penalties shall include, but shall not be limited to, public apologies, return of contributions, fines, being debarred from participation in elections, whether temporarily for fixed periods or permanently ... ," noted Knight.

Continuing, Knight said, "I am awaiting the proper interpretation of this so that I can sleep comfortably, knowing that the Constitution of Jamaica is still ... the supreme law of this land. And that the judiciary, that third arm of government is the only arm that can permanently debar a citizen of this country from participating in election, whether temporarily for fixed period of time, or permanently."

Knight said he was willing to accept that his interpretation of the provision was wrong but "that provision has to go".

Knight also pointed to the ECJ's recommendation that "An imposition of a sanction or penalty by the Electoral Commission shall not preclude the institution of criminal proceedings for contravening the campaign financing provisions."

He said the imposition of a penalty was a way in which the ECJ wants to punish, but, having punished, it wants the matter to go to the criminal courts where the individual is imperilled for further punishment.

"And I have noticed, running through, a tendency to have the desire for double punishment, even by the commission itself," Knight claimed.

He said the commission should revisit the matter and make the necessary adjustments, and the recommendations, if any, from the Lower House be taken on board and the report resubmitted.

According to Knight, the campaign-financing changes should be done right, and should be guided by rational thinking with a "meeting of the minds."