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Campaign financing policies needed to stem corruption
Payback? It is a damning perception, according to political analysts and scientists, caused by the lack of campaign finance reform in T&T. Unlike in the United States, where the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1972 requires candidates to disclose sources of campaign contributions and expenditure, there are no regulations in T&T to trace or compel disclosure of the funding given to political parties.
Three years after the People’s Partnership promised to implement the legislation, it remains outstanding. The issue caused serious questions to be raised as to what exactly was the aim of the early proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act.
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley suggested it might be a possible $2 million payback for two businessmen who were once financiers of the United National Congress (UNC). Businessmen Ish Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson would have been entitled to be freed of corruption charges arising out of the Piarco Airport Enquiry scandal if the clause had not been repealed.
In an attempt to counter Rowley’s claim, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar two weeks ago, at the People’s Partnership pre-budget rally, brandished a $5 million cheque made out to the People’s National Movement in 2007 by former CL Financial giant Lawrence Duprey.
Duprey also made financial contributions to family members of former prime minister Basdeo Panday to assist with their education. Campaign financing is likely to become an issue again soon, with elections due for the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and local government bodies.
Corruption on the rise in T&T
The Section 34 debacle is not isolated, as reports of bid-rigging in the award of contracts and irregular hiring practices at various state enterprises have surfaced, all being linked to party supporters. Political analyst Dr Winford James says the legislation is overdue and is urgently needed to stop the expansion of corruption. He firmly believes that “predator financiers” are having their way.
“If a political party wants to win power it is going to be very difficult to refuse a big donation. Donations are accepted by political parties worldwide, but the problem in T&T is the lack of regulations. “There would always be the expectation that those who donate large contributions are in expectation of getting contracts.
In some cases some people get more than they give. There are individuals who gave small amounts, small businesses who also make contributions, and then we have big contributions. Clearly, $5,000 cannot be regarded as an act of financing to a political party,” James explained.
Weighing in on claims that certain contractors were receiving the lion’s share of work, James said a donation should not automatically qualify the donor for the award of a contract.
“We need to protect the citizenry from the predator financiers. What is happening is that they are taking people votes and when they get into power they are benefiting those that treated them specially, and it is expanding the level of corruption. “If you do not have a type of control it will have the effect that has gripped this country, not only under this government but under previous regimes.”
Expressing a similar view was political scientist Dr Bishnu Ragoonath, who said the lack of campaign finance regulations places the electorate at a disadvantage. “The reality is those that made large contributions are expecting payback when a political party gets into power. Unless regulations are implemented and there are records to trace all donations, giving without looking back does not exist.
“When political parties are in Opposition they are eager to get the legislation. When they get into office it is another story,” Ragoonath said. Pointing out that some businesses contribute to both sides to avoid missing out on contracts in the event of a change of government, Ragoonath said those who were unable to do so are at a disadvantage.
“Those who cannot make huge donations are left to settle and accept whatever is given to them. It may not be right, but it is the reality,” Ragoonath said.
Political parties must account
Also wading in on the issue was head of the T&T Transparency Institute Deryck Murray, who said parties must be made to account for the funding they receive. Stressing that the process must be open and transparent, Murray said the perception of payback for political support is troubling.
He noted the implementation of the legislation would allow donors to defend their contribution if questions arose. “What we are looking for is actual transparency in the contributions being made. Right now we have no regulations so anybody can do as they please. People must account for the donations. We need regulations to trace the donations,” he said.
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