Oct 22, 2017
When it comes to keeping dirty money out of politics, Guyana trails regionally. From the
posture of the coalition Government, political observers believe the administration may not be ready and willing to enact promised campaign financing legislation reforms which ensures transparency through the disclosure of donors.
With the appointment of the local government commissioners, local government elections appear on track to be held next year, but international groups have pointed to the need for campaign finance reform ahead of future polls.
The Oganisation of American States (OAS) Elections Observer Mission concluded that while a legal framework regarding political financing already exists, it is necessary to revise and modernize aspects of the law which are obsolete and allow violations and non-compliance of the few existing sanctions.
Political commentator and executive member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds, pointed out that the last the time President David Granger frontally addressed the issue was more than a year ago when he promised legislation before the next general election, which is due in less than three years.
After assuming office in 2015, President Granger promised to deliver much needed campaign financing reforms. Dr. Hinds said since then, “we have not seen any movement from the government.”
“There has been little if any sense of urgency in this direction. Even when the government indicates that it is willing to address its promise to beef up anti-corruption legislation, they don’t say much about campaign finance reform,” Dr. Hinds told Kaieteur News.
He stated that the delay is worrying as it makes the government look bad. It adds to the less than adequate record of not living up to the big policy promises in their manifesto. Dr. Hinds suggested the sloth partly has to do with the contraction of decision-making within the Coalition.
“Everything is decided at Cabinet, but the Cabinet is made up of ministers who are obviously primarily concerned with management of their individual issues. Hence, they are less interested and in many regards less schooled in overall government policy direction.
“So, something like campaign finance which does not fall under the purview of any subject ministry, except maybe the Legal Affairs ministry, does not get the treatment it deserves,” Dr. Hinds said.
Reforms, according to Dr. Hinds, should aim to make elections a relatively low-cost activity and to take dirty money and other suspect sources of financing out of the system. He said parties should be mandated to disclose the sources of campaign funds and there should be stiff penalties if this is not adhered to.
“There should be a cap on such contributions, especially from corporate and commercial sources and rich individuals. We are a small country. Our election campaigns should not cost as much as parties want to make us believe,” Dr. Hinds stated.
Narco & oil money
Against the backdrop of Guyana’s newfound oil resources and the resulting economic activities that are expected to flow, political advocates are even now mindful of the need to insulate the political players.
Minister of Natural Resources and senior executive of the Alliance for Change (AFC), Raphael Trotman, outlined that while reforms are being considered there needs to be a broad based approach to the issue and not one driven by oil wealth.
“Whether it is oil or whether it is drugs or from gold I think we all have a responsibility to insulate the political class. We support, in Government, any initiative which does that,” Trotman noted.
While shifting focus from oil influence, Trotman countered that Guyana is on the rim of narcotic producing countries.
“Drugs have been passing through here long before oil. We have been vulnerable and we will continue to have to find ways to strengthen our legislative framework. The Attorney General [Basil Williams] has passed a series of acts on money-laundering and those are meant to protect the country and it speaks of politically exposed person.
“Financing can be an aspect, but it can’t be seen in isolation as the only thing that will solve the problem,” Trotman said.
Dr. Hinds shared a contrary view. He said that campaign finance is urgent, especially since oil money is coming.
“Companies like ExxonMobil have the capacity and perhaps the willingness to corrupt politicians and political parties. Businesses are always prepared to buy political access and decision makers are always vulnerable. Experience in Guyana and other countries have taught us that we cannot depend on the integrity of politicians and parties, so we should legislate checks on their potential for indiscretion,” Dr. Hinds stated
PPP/C, other parties unwilling
Dr. Hinds said the main opposition, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), has shown little interest in cooperating with the government even when the government has reached out to them. He suspects that there are many elements in the PPP leadership and maybe some on the government side who are not keen on campaign finance regulation, because it would take dirty money out of the system.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that there is a lot of dirty money in both our formal and informal political process. If there is no dirty money on the Coalition side, as the president assured us last year, then go ahead and call the PPP’s bluff by pushing for campaign finance regulation,” Dr. Hinds noted.
He said the parties in the Coalition, including the WPA of which Hinds is a senior official, have not been doing their work as far as pressuring the Coalition to advance an aggressive legislative agenda that speaks to the overall direction in which the Coalition wants to take the country.
“You never hear from the PNC, AFC, the WPA and the others about their legislative priorities. These parties seem satisfied that they are ‘in government’ and are not prepared to demand space in which to influence the government’s legislative and policy agenda,” Dr. Hinds noted.
He maintains that the coalition needs to set up a committee made up of representatives of member parties to do a “mid-term audit” of campaign promises. The objective, Dr. Hinds stated, is to determine what promises have been addressed and others that need to be urgently addressed.
“Such work cannot be left to the Cabinet,” Dr. Hinds concluded.
He added, “If this government is serious about turning a new page as far as cleaning up the cancer of corruption, it should act swiftly, even if it has to do so that on its own and even if it has to disavow ‘bad eggs’ in its own ranks. Failure to so, would hurt Guyana and expose the government as just another set of failures.”
In the region, Jamaica is the standard bearer. Last May, Jamaica passed the Political Parties Registration Regulations which gives effect to the Registration of Political Parties Act passed some three years ago. Officials are preparing for other regulations to give effect to the Campaign Finance Reform Act passed last year.
Under the Jamaica model, political parties will be required to submit annual financial reports to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, set limits on how much an individual can give to a party and how much a party can spend; full disclosure of big donors and contributions from persons with government contracts above a certain level; ban anonymous donations and contributions from foreign governments; and provide for the deregistration of political parties in breach of the law.
Trinidad and Tobago has started the discussion politically and among citizens. A joint parliamentary committee was established in 2014 to propose a legislative framework to govern the financing of election campaigns.
Just last year, the Dr Keith Christopher Rowley administration hosted a forum on campaign finance reform as part of a wider initiative to get citizens involved in the process.