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It’s party time

Published: 
Wednesday, April 19, 2017

For now, there are no elections in sight. Good. So, it’s the perfect time to talk and think about elections and political parties. The financing of election campaigns in particular.

Don’t be fooled for one minute. Just as the story of flooding in Aranguez in September actually begins with the burning of the hills in March, so too payback time for political investors does not kick in until after an election victory, in some instances after a considerable time.

It’s like news stories about flooding which I often contend should be written during the dry season, for that is when the deluge actually begins to build.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When I talk about political investors and payback, I am not hinting at anything topical at the moment. I am not speaking in parables or trying to be clever. Believe me.

Malpractice in this area is also not exclusive to any particular political party in any specific Caribbean state. Political organisations here all willingly and gratuitously engage in implicit and explicit deals with such investors, albeit at different levels of intensity.

In some instances, there have been attempts and promises to legislate decent political behaviour. Right now, for instance, constitution reform is being discussed in Guyana and there has been an accompanying suggestion that campaign finance reform should become a part of the debates to follow.

For, not unlike its island partner, T&T, there was a promise by the winning APNU+AFC coalition, after the last elections in 2015, that there will be a new regulatory framework covering campaign expenditure before the next election.

While President David Granger said he did not necessarily see campaign contributions as “dirty money,” he acknowledged the need to introduce legislation to reduce the potentially-corrupting influence of money on elections.

Indeed, following the elections there, the Carter Center had recommended the establishment of “party finance regulations with clear, rigorous, and enforceable regulations for reporting; requiring electoral contestants to make reports on their campaign expenditures publicly available, with strong penalties for those who do not comply with regulations.”

Something of the sort was also promised by T&T’s ruling PNM in its campaign manifesto of 2015 when the party promised such legislation: “as an urgent priority, and to put an end to the pernicious scourge of ‘political investors’, once and for all.”

In Jamaica, a Political Party Registration and Finance Act was passed under the PNP in 2014 and the regulations to be drafted giving force to the law are now moving sluggishly along under the JLP.

But it is in the Turks and Caicos Islands that the colonial authorities have gone all the way with regulations that dig deep into the quagmire of political corruption and intrigue.

As I have hinted, you cannot always legislate decent public behaviour, but I believe some of the measures currently in place on the British colony are worthy of consideration to minimise the worst effects of big and crooked money here and in other countries of the Caribbean.

The Turks and Caicos journey is, of course, a singularly remarkable one. Former chief minister, Michael Misick, is now on trial for conspiracy to receive bribes, conspiracy to defraud the government and money laundering.

Back in 2009, the colonial authorities also felt obliged to suspend the territory’s constitution and regain full administrative control in order to contain the damage sustained as a result of endemic corruption and graft.

Three years later, shortly before Misick was located by Interpol in Brazil, a Political Activities Ordinance went into force. Some commentators have remarked that the UK might have wrung the territory’s arms a bit too hard, but in the measures now in force, and which applied in last December’s general election are a few clues into how we may wish to proceed. Oh, by the way, the same Misick guy ran as an independent candidate in 2016 and lost.

Among the key features of the law is the registration of political parties and their office-holders. There is an obligation on parties to keep accounting records which show day-to-day details of income and expenditure and a requirement, once either income or expenditure exceeds US$500,000 in any year, for such accounts to be audited. Copies of statement of accounts, in some instances, must be made available for public inspection.

It is also the prerogative of the territory’s Integrity Commission to determine the financial year of a registered party and organisation’s treasurer must have accounts prepared for each financial year.

Additionally, the law controls donations to political parties by requiring that they must not accept donations if the identity of the donor cannot be ascertained or if it is suspected that the donation represents the proceeds of unlawful activity. The maximum permitted donation is US$30,000.

The party treasurer is also required to submit donation reports every six months, except during election campaigns when such reports are due on a weekly basis. The ordinance also regulates elections expenses other than the expenses of candidates.

No campaign expenditure is to be incurred by a political party unless authorised by the treasurer or a deputy.

Additionally, there are limits on expenditure in most electoral districts and there is a limit on expenditure by a party leader. Where campaign expenditure exceeds US$250,000 for the party, a report must be prepared by a qualified auditor. The penalties for breaches are heavy criminal and civil sanctions

On another occasion we can look at where the campaign money goes and who else needs to be brought into the picture. That is where the other part of the bacchanal starts.