PRIME MINISTER Dr Keith Rowley’s assurance on Saturday that campaign finance reform legislation will be brought to Parliament early next year is a welcomed indication that this matter remains a priority for his government. However, the promise raises questions as to the form the measure will take, its scope, and whether it will be implemented in time for the next general election.
In its 2015 manifesto, the PNM pledged to put an end to the pernicious scourge of “political investors” once and for all by drafting, enacting and implementing appropriate campaign finance legislation, drawing on the experience of models successfully in use in developed countries such as the UK and the US. This was to be done “as an urgent priority” and “before the next general election.” As things stand, this could be achievable.
The need for reform was underlined last year by remarks made by the chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission. “Transparency in regard to party funding helps to ensure that the electorate understands the influences under which politicians are likely to come when they are in government,” said Mark Ramkerrysingh. “It makes it much more difficult for parties to be influenced by external interests, reducing the likelihood of undue influence and lessening the danger of patronage in public appointments and contracts.”
However, campaign finance is just one part of a complex arrangement of rules governing elections. These rules require a broader examination. For example, a cursory look at the Representation of the People Act makes clear that some provisions are out of date, others have been rendered virtually irrelevant, and many do not attract an appropriate level of penalties.
This is complicated by the uncharted territory of modern electioneering, which, all over the world, has seen technology play a disruptive role, fanning allegations of interference and tampering.
Addressing the need for political financiers to come out of the shadows would seem to be just one matter that requires our attention. Be that as it may, many countries have long introduced simple measures that make it easier to trace who is giving money to whom. For instance, in the US you can check donations to the major parties online.
Can we quickly introduce such measures here? Will the promised reform see an amendment of the laws regulating the EBC? Or will a new agency or department have to be introduced? Depending on the answers to these questions it will become clearer whether there is enough time for laws to be passed and for the EBC and/or the relevant state entities to prepare ahead of the next election.
Overall, we are heartened this issue remains on the legislative agenda and would encourage further clarity on just exactly when and how we are going to declare who pays the piper.