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'Unconscionable action' Warmington says state fundingof political parties is a bad move

Published:Thursday | October 2, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

PARLIAMENTARIANS D.K. Duncan and Everald Warmington crossed swords on Tuesday over whether impending legislation to green-light state funding of political parties would protect Jamaica's democracy or further impoverish its people.

"The twist that can be put on the financing of political parties, especially in the economic climate that now faces us, can reflect a dangerous kind of populism," Duncan, the East Hanover representative, said.

The government MP, who, along with Peter Bunting, represents Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller on the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), the body that led the formulation of the bill which is now before Parliament, said Jamaica's democracy was at risk and that political party registration and funding should be addressed.

House Leader Phillip Paulwell opened the debate on the bill.

The bill is proposing, among other things, that every registered political party that meets certain requirements, including having its annual financial statements independently audited by a registered public accountant, be entitled in each financial year to receive state funding. It is also proposing that a registered political party receive, in any financial year, up to 40 per cent of its income for the previous financial year.

However, Warmington, the opposition MP who represents South West St Catherine, objected to some provisions, especially regarding state funding.

Warmington signalled that he would be calling for a vote on the "state funding" clause, so as to identify the supporters of what he characterised as an unconscionable action.

"We are unable to provide the basic needs for the poor of this country, but yet we want to give money to the Electoral Commission to finance political campaigns and political parties," Warmington lamented. "We can't provide the houses for poor people, we can't provide education for the poor people, we can't provide adequate schools, we can't provide adequate roads and water supply for poor people, yet we want to take poor people money and give to the Electoral Commission to provide for political parties."

He argued that political parties and their candidates who cannot afford the electoral process should not get involved.

Duncan, meanwhile, argued that state funding would mitigate against the private sector and other interests hijacking democracy for personal gain.

"The deepening of Jamaica's democracy requires that the people continue to have relevant and real voice," Duncan said. "Big capital and big money can influence the way we operate in our parties and at election time, and the possibility is there for influencing policies and outcomes," he said.

Duncan also shot back at Warmington for saying the State had misplaced

priorities in facilitating the funding of political parties amid a creaking welfare infrastructure.

"Providing for poor people is not just a little more bread and a little more butter. Providing for poor people is also providing for raising the level of their consciousness and lifting and empowering them about their capacity to be leaders, to take their own decisions about whether they want to be poor," Duncan said.