Tue | Jun 22, 2021

Where is the Olint money?

Published:Sunday | May 13, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Lambert Brown, Contributor

I am indebted to Member of Parliament Delroy Chuck for the title of this column. Writing in his Gleaner column of November 15, 2006, he asked the question, "Where is the Trafigura money?" Back then, he was concerned about a campaign donation of a little over US$500,000 to the People's National Party (PNP) by Dutch oil-trading company Trafigura Beheer.

Today, there are revelations that the party of which Mr Chuck is a member received more than US$5 million from Olint, whose boss, David Smith, has pleaded guilty in two different countries for numerous counts of fraud. There are allegations that the PNP also got funding from Olint.

Unlike the debates and commentaries about linking the Trafigura donation to political corruption, the current commentaries around the Olint gift, approximately 10 times greater than Trafigura's, are muted when it comes to allegations of political corruption. Now the arguments turn not on corruption, but on campaign financing and the need for laws to govern contributions to political parties.

Political parties have always solicited and received funding from various sources. The 2006 Trafigura contribution was, in my view, no different from the 2007 Olint contributions. That is par for the course in terms of funding political parties here and abroad. The call for campaign-financing laws is expected to grow louder in the coming days, as if that will somehow solve the problem of private interests trying to influence politics through financial and other support to political parties.

Jamaica has had, for a long time, laws governing campaign financing. There is currently a limit on how much a political candidate can spend in an election. There is a requirement for a declaration of such spending by each candidate. Unfortunately, these laws and requirements are honoured in the breach, rather than the faithful compliance that is required.

Look at the recent returns on election spending and see how many candidates declared zero or an insignificant sum as their election expenditure. In fact, one independent candidate reported election expenditure many times the amount of probably all the candidates of the two main parties combined. The truth is that we have no appetite for enforcing the breaches of our existing electoral laws. We, therefore, must provide the opiate of campaign financing laws as the answer to our culture of non-enforcement.

Campaign-finance laws will simply be more laws to find ways of evading, avoiding and ignoring. Think about our traffic laws and how daily these are violated with impunity. Think of how many lives would have been saved on our roads if we had a culture of respect for our laws, coupled with rigorous enforcement. If you think that the culture of non-enforcement is only applicable to elections and traffic, you would be making a big mistake.

a culture of enforcement

Let us never forget the myriad tax laws that we have on the books, yet so few of those who must pay taxes are actually doing so. Just as companies and individuals pay lawyers and accountants to find loopholes in our tax laws, so, too, have the political parties found ways to get around existing electoral laws on campaign financing. They will do it here in Jamaica, as the politicians in most, if not all, countries with campaign-finance laws have done.

What we need in Jamaica is not more laws, but to develop a culture of enforcement of existing ones. We must build a culture of respect for what is right and stop rewarding that which we all know is wrong.

There was a time in Jamaica where public officials and politicians played fast and loose with our contract-issuing system. Thanks to the efforts of a Greg Christie and his team at the Office of the Contractor General, we are now seeing 100 per cent compliance with reporting on contracts issued. A new culture of accountability, driven by a willingness of the authority to enforce sanctions and shame delinquents, is emerging in our governance process. We need to consolidate such gains.

Our people are not averse to discipline, and have shown that they will conform to what is right, even without the presence of authority. It amazes me how orderly our people form neat lines when seeking to purchase Lotto or Cash Pot tickets. They line up in the banks and other places for service where they detect some benefit to them, even if the chances of getting such benefits are remote.

Maybe the lesson we should be learning from these experiences of positive and often voluntary enforcement is that we need to convince our population that there are benefits in doing what is right. Then we may find that financial inducements to the electorate are unnecessary.

It is not surprising that from as far back as 2002 the issue of campaign-finance laws have been touted seriously. In The Gleaner of October 6, 2002, the following was written:

"Bishop Herro Blair, the political ombudsman, says the practice of buying votes was threatening the country's democracy, and that he would be strongly advocating for the enactment of a campaign-finance law after the general election. In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner on Friday, Bishop Blair said it was disturbing to see the huge sums of money being spent to buy votes, a pattern he said that was widespread in constituencies across the island.

"'I don't think we have ever had a situation in our history where so much money is being spent in a political campaign,' he said. 'It is sad, however, that a lot of this money is being used to buy votes. This certainly cannot be good for our democracy. I will, in my report to Parliament after the elections, be making a strong argument for campaign financing, which to me is the sensible way forward.'"

That was 10 years ago. Five different national elections have been held since. Much more money than was spent in 2002 has been expended in the two subsequent parliamentary elections. Needed is a culture of enforcement, or we will be condemned to be ever asking, "Where is the ... money?" Only the name of the donor will change.

Lambert Brown is a government senator and president of the University and Allied Workers Union. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and Labpoyh@yahoo.com.