(Jamaica Observer) Both major political parties have flatly refused to voluntarily comply with the Electoral Commission of Jamaica’s (ECJ’s) recommendation to disclose the names of donors to their political campaigns leading up to the general election which is expected to be held next month.
This follows last week’s call by the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC) for both parties to voluntarily agree to disclose their donors.
Yesterday, the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) told the Sunday Observer they were not prepared to reveal their donors although they will be signing an agreement to voluntarily comply with some of the campaign reform recommendations developed by the ECJ to regulate donations to political parties and to prevent the use of tainted funds in election campaigns.
The JLP’s representative on the ECJ Tom Tavares-Finson said there are certain aspects pertaining to disclosure within the wider framework of the ECJ’s report which his party cannot agree to at this time.
“If we were to begin to suddenly disclose our donors the source of funds would cut off significantly,” he said.
As such, Tavares-Finson said it was therefore disingenuous for the JCSC to require that this aspect of disclosure be singled out of a wider framework which is predicated on state funding.
The PNP’s Mark Golding said that aspect of the recommendation could not be agreed upon within such a short time before the general election.
“Because it is such a big leap, to have it imposed for the current election would be a major step for political parties and so it needs to be introduced where persons have an opportunity to discuss and respond to it,” he insisted.
With the legislative process for the draft proposal not expected to be completed for a December poll, the JCSC has singled out the proposal for full disclosure. The group wants the disclosures made within a year before or after an election in cases where private companies are performing a public service, pursuant to a contract with a government body or public office, or whether as principals or sub-contractors.
“In other words, there is nothing wrong with government contractors making donations and contributions, however, it is impermissible under this recommendation from the ECJ unless these are fully disclosed,” said Professor Trevor Munroe, a member of the JCSC steering committee.
But Golding argued that the campaign reform recommendations might not make it into law in their present form.
While he was unable to list all of the recommendations agreed on for voluntary compliance, Golding, who is the PNP’s treasurer, said one such is the consensus on impermissible donors.
Impermissible donors, he explained, would include foreign governments, agencies of foreign government and state entities such as the National Works Agency and the National Housing Trust.
He said the parties have also agreed that candidate expenditures within constituencies be raised from the current J$3 million to no more than J$10 million.
But Golding said as a lawyer he has reservations about some wordings of the draft the parties are to sign off on for voluntary compliance, and has since suggested that changes be made.
One such concern is that the party will be held accountable if a member receives donations from any of the impermissible donors.
According to Golding, this should not apply to members but to officers of the party.
A loophole, however, exists in this clause as not all candidates are officers and so would be able to receive funding from impermissible donors.
Golding also took issue with the clause that would prohibit parties from receiving funding from donors who are not tax compliant.
Meanwhile, the JCSC is also challenging both parties to release their manifestos and to participate in one-on-one leadership debates.
The JCSC, which brought to the fore a number of issues the group was hoping to have addressed in the upcoming election, said it is unacceptable that both parties have not yet released a manifesto, weeks away from the election.
“In the Guyana election scheduled for November 28, the governing party published its manifesto two months ago, but in Jamaica we are facing an election in a few weeks’ time and neither parties have published a manifesto,” Munroe said.
“We see this as unacceptable and urge that each major party publish and indicate what they will be doing about the main issues of fiscal responsibility, economic growth and development, corruption and transparency and accountability in governance,” he said.
Regarding the call for a leadership debate on the economy and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement, Munroe said it was unacceptable that persons who aspire to occupy positions of leadership should not want to answer questions and provide perspectives on the many issues facing the country.
“In that context, the debates must go on. We believe that one-on-one debate of the leadership is absolutely important,” he said.
Munroe, a former parliamentary candidate, said he is also in agreement with the proposal made by Contractor General Greg Christie for both the JLP and the PNP to openly debate the problem of corruption in Jamaica.
He also urged Jamaicans to hold the parties accountable to the political code of conduct which they both signed off on.
Among the blatant breaches under this code of conduct is the posting of flags, a feature which is dominant in several communities across the country.
Chairperson of JCSC Carol Narcisse said the coalition wants both parties to address the issues surrounding the state of the economy, community renewal, plans to end garrison politics and corruption in governance.
The Coalition is also seeking to shine the spotlight on tax reform, debt management and public sector management, among others.
“We cannot afford an election campaign which is about personality and ‘cass cass’ because there are serious matters confronting the country that we have to insist be addressed on the platform and more so in the manifestos so they can be referenced and monitored as we go forward into next year,” she said.
Horace Levy, a member of the steering committee, said the JCSC is calling on both party leaders to agree on and commit to supporting the Community Renewal Programme.
“The joint walk coupled with joint action would signal commitment to really ending tribal politics,” he said.