EDITORIAL - Olint saga makes case for campaign-finance law
Should one have been needed, there can now be no more compelling argument for Jamaica to fast-track its campaign-finance legislation than the order by a Turks and Caicos Islands court for Jamaica's two main political parties, and persons aligned to them, to return large monetary gifts from David Smith's collapsed Ponzi scheme.
For while Mr Smith may not have reaped any favours for allegedly bankrolling the parties for the 2007 election, no one would be surprised if reasonable people harbour doubt. And such uncertainty, that the process may be available to the highest bidder, is not good for the legitimacy of democracy.
But more particularly, the case highlights what is possible in our current murky environment, with its absence of clear rules on who can give what, and how, to political parties and their candidates. That, based on prima facie evidence, is not an unreasonable interpretation of what happened - at least in the case of the People's National Party (PNP).
Dancing between the raindrops
It is unfortunate, however, that nearly a week after this issue came to public attention, the PNP is still equivocal on whether it received money from Smith.
David Smith, of course, is the former Jamaican high-flyer whose supposedly supremely profitable money-trading operation turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that bilked people out of billions of dollars, for which he is now serving time in a United States jail for fraud and money laundering.
Mr Smith was at his crest in 2006, offering persons upwards of 100 per cent a year on their 'investments'. That was until Jamaica's Financial Services Commission (FSC) questioned the legitimacy of his operation and insisted that his so-called investment club, Olint, be covered by its regulatory umbrella. Mr Smith resisted robustly at all levels of the courts.
Significantly, this occurred at the time the PNP formed the Government. Indeed, Dr Omar Davies, then finance minister, in Parliament defended accusations by his Jamaica Labour Party shadow, Audley Shaw, of the authorities being spiteful and oppressive against Olint, thus stifling creativity and entrepreneurship. The PNP also gave the impression that it would censure its member, Errol Ennis, for characterising a raid on Olint's office by the FSC as not only a "Gestapo" move, but fundamentally wrong.
In these circumstances, the JLP's predisposition towards accepting David Smith's money may be understood. However, that a PNP elder mandarin of the stature of P.J. Patterson would entertain a conversation about financing with Mr Smith is surprising, especially if there was the background noise over the party's earlier acceptance of a gift from the Dutch firm, Trafigura, with which Jamaica did business.
First, it is urgent that the PNP speak with clarity on whether it received money from Smith, and how much. But more important, the parties and their candidates, or anyone else who received these 'gifts' from Smith, have legal and moral obligations to give them back. That is non-negotiable!
Ultimately, the State should contribute to financing election campaigns. That, at this time, may be unaffordable. In the meantime, the Electoral Commission's proposal for documenting party funders is necessary and urgent.
David Smith may not have had the tune played for him, but we don't know who might have.
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