One million reasons for political 'see-and-blind'
By Gordon Robinson
Thanks to an incomprehensible 'confiscation order' doing the media-hyped rounds, political campaign funding is once more a popular topic.
Talk-show host(esse)s have suddenly regained their voices. Robert 'Chicken Feed' Pickersgill is everywhere saying nothing's immoral about a US$1-million private contribution disclosed to nobody. Daryl has adroitly slipped the spotlight by saying he's considering returning a similar but less substantial donation (US$50,000) to his constituency fund. But, in the mad scramble to nail the PNP to the Unethical Donation Cross, has anybody asked Daryl if he's concluded his 'consideration'? Will he refund the donation? How come Daryl quickly speaks of refund but 'Chicken Feed' finds nothing immoral? Is it the amount that makes the difference?
The entire episode is yet another example of how corrupt our political system is and how inept our media, whose job is to weed out and pursue relentlessly, on our behalf, just this sort of fundamental flaw in our process until it's corrected. The hilarious aspect of this latest contretemps is that the PNP has only gone public with it because, initially, former Party President and Prime Minister P.J. Patterson was implicated and personally embarrassed.
WEB OF DECEIT TRAILS BACK TO TRAFIGURA
The similarities with Trafigura can't be ignored. Then, a dummy account was used to receive the funds for use in the PNP's campaigning. As part of an intricate web of deceit to make the donation appear as payment on a commercial contract, the $31-million Trafigura campaign donation to the PNP was lodged to an account held by CCOC (Colin Campbell Our Candidate) Associates, then deposited into an account called SW Services (Team Jamaica), on which senior party officials were listed as signatories.
When asked about the matter, then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller answered, "Ask the PNP," while lead spokesman Robert Pickersgill appeared on national television and dismissed the contribution as "chicken feed".
The US$1-million campaign contribution from Olint was unknown to Jamaicans until the confiscation order was publicised. When asked about it, the prime minister said, "I can't say. I wasn't aware that we had gotten that contribution," (notice that she and the PNP are now "we") claiming she hadn't been "briefed" by party officials.
Finally, sounding more like Soames Forsyth than a political leader, she delivered herself of the following pearl of inanity: "I can't say. I don't know ... . There's a team ... taking care of that particular issue with the party chairman involved," before being mercifully whisked away.
This time around, Chicken Feed's response was more measured: "The investigation has proceeded in earnest, and a thorough examination of all available records has been pursued with urgency. The investigation has established that the sum of US$1,000,000 was received in an account on its behalf and spent in the party's 2007 election campaign."
Again, "in an account on its behalf ...". Was that account in P.J. Patterson's name? Was Mr Patterson a signatory to that account? Why does the PNP continue to hide campaign contributions in oddly named accounts? Are Jamaicans taken to be so stupid that we'll believe a contribution of this size was made to the party, but the party president "wasn't aware" and the chairman must "investigate" to find out? OK, so WHO KNEW? And why did that person go to such lengths to hide the fact from the PNP's hierarchy?
Hiding the truth
Even now, some five years after news of Trafigura broke, the PNP is going to unbelievable lengths to protect Jamaicans from the truth behind this political contribution, including frustrating the determination of a brave Supreme Court judge to promptly and fully air the issue by filing a 'constitutional motion' contending that the Dutch authorities are politically motivated.
Now that the PNP has won the election, will that matter ever be heard?
The PNP's behaviour doesn't suggest that transparent political campaign funding is its desire, or that it has any interest in ridding the system of "tainted" contributions. If it shared these noble intentions, it could easily have passed the bill tabled by its own one-time MP, Abe Dabdoub (see my column 'If a Macca Mek it Jook Yu', Gleaner, October 5, 2010).
Instead, it prefers old-fashioned gamesmanship which keeps us in the dark while campaigns buy expensive cars for distribution to party faithful after the election and spend lavishly on the only party they all truly love, namely, the campaign party.
So, we must depend on overpaid political mediators (aka ECJ). For God's sake, ECJ, grow a pair; stop pandering to political compromise; earn your fat salaries; and insist on strict political campaign-finance reform.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.