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Beware the evils of campaign financing
Underlying the contentions over the early and secretive proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Offences) Act is the suspicion that someone in the administration was seeking and continues to seek openings for political investors in the ruling party to walk free of very serious criminal charges relating to fraud against the State.
There could be no better opportunity than the present to guard against the peddling of influence by those with deep pockets in the election and sustenance of a government in power.
Therefore when the Integrity Commission puts forward the suggestion to raise the issue of transparency in campaign financing and to have it discussed and debated in public, with the possibility of a proposal being taken to the Parliament, it struck me as a great opportunity for the issues surrounding campaign financing to be brought to the attention of the electorate, with the possibility of action flowing from the discussion.
Campaign financing is not a new subject, it has been on the agenda for many elections. However, citizens should not expect the leaders of political parties that benefit from wheeling investors in political parties and by extension governments to want to lose such a benefit. The parties place the subject in their manifestos as an adornment of democratic intent. But that is where the proposal stays until time for the next election and another manifesto proposal.
Political parties are not in the business of giving up power and electoral benefits. So too are they not likely to give up the option of mauvais langue as a tool to smear the other party with by declaring that Mr X wrote a cheque for Y party; or that so and so is in the pocket of the drug lords.
The political culture is corrupted to the core and it infects all those who enter, only the likes of Gillian Lucky were able to say that integrity means something to her in the face of Panday’s assertion (which is gospel) that “politics has its own morality,” which means none: politicians are free to do and say as what they please irrespective of whether it be true or not. “Today is today and yesterday was yesterday.”
In the ongoing contentions over Section 34, the PNM leader said he had a cheque from such and such businessman made out to the UNC. As could be expected, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar brandished a cheque allegedly made out to the PNM by such and such a business leader.
What was amusing about the latter is that the individual from whom the cheque allegedly came was in court recently for being too generous with funds for the daughters of a UNC prime minister to go to school in London.
Embedded in the allegations and counter-allegations is a not-too-hidden contempt for the intelligence of the population, or maybe it is an issue of the leaders of the parties being so assured of their overwhelming ethnic tribal non-thinking support bases that they care little for the intelligence of those outside of the fanatical support bases.
Campaign financing is not simply an issue for a small developing country such as Trinidad and Tobago that is fixed in the grip of a culture of corrupt dealings by crooked politicians and their supporters, but it is one which has been an issue in US elections going back two decades.
It is an even more difficult proposition for a small country such as T&T in which people are closely connected, where funds are short and only those in the world of business with deep pockets can bribe politicians and grease the wheels of the political locomotive.
When business operators purchase influence in government it is a means of disenfranchising the ordinary voter from the power of his vote, won by our ancestors in the 1930s and 1940s. It is a means of distorting the democracy the country has been working towards achieving and a way that stitches corruption into the fabric of the society.
When ordinary people witness how those with wealth in the society can purchase influence at the highest levels of society, that effectively undermines the credibility of leaders in the political realm. People will come to think of government as just another hustle and that corporate bodies are inherently dishonest. Corrupt dealings are breaking down institutions and making those in other strata of the society believe the important thing is to be able to get away with their crimes.
The message is there must be an awareness of the evils of campaign financing and the need to reduce, perhaps even eliminate how political investors can purchase influence along the corridors of power. This columnist will not get tired of expressing the view that the society cannot sit back and allow political parties and their leaders to drive constitutional reform; it will not happen.
It is the experience of the world that those with power never give it up, and never create openings for the population to grab hold of power.
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