Jamaica PM favours naming campaign donors, but…

(Jamaica Observer) Prime Minister Andrew Holness says that while he is in favour of disclosure, limits and transparency in campaign and party financing, the flip side is that the State should contribute to funding of the process.

The public, he said, ought to be aware that the long-standing issues of transparency in campaign and party financing cannot be merely solved with disclosure, but the State must provide some of the needed resources.

He said while he supports most of what is proposed in the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) campaign and party financing reform proposals, once Jamaica goes the route of disclosure the argument will be placed on the table that financing and cost of campaigns will become unbearable for parties to afford.

As such, he insisted that in fighting corruption it has to be comprehensive and requires a “360 degree view of the problem”.

Said the prime minister: “I am in favour of disclosure, and I am in favour of limits, but in accepting those two I am also in favour of State funding.”

Holness, who was addressing the launch of the National Integrity Action Limited (NIAL) yesterday, said while the public will have a view of its own, he is placing the matter squarely on the table.

The NIAL was launched at Mona Visitor’s Lodge in Kingston to coincide with International Anti-Corruption Day. It was founded by Professor Anthony Harriott, Professor Trevor Munroe, Joseph Matalon, Martin Henry and Danny Roberts and grew out of the necessity to raise levels of national integrity and to combat corruption more effectively in Jamaica.

Holness, in examining a number of anti-corruption legislation currently before the Parliament, pointed to the amendment to the Contractor General Act, aimed at criminalising serious beaches of the award procedure for government contracts.

According to Holness, the outset would seem to make sense as this would strengthen the law so that public officials who breach it would face sanctions. However, upon discussion with a group of public officials, Holness said concerns were raised that having such amendments of the law could literally cripple the civil service and bring government to a halt.

“It could add a long period of time between inception of a project and the actual approval,” Holness said. He added that in the push forward to tackle the issue of corruption what should always be in the back of one’s mind is how does this would affect efficiencies of government.

“It means you have to first of all engage in the education of those involved in the public sector because they understand and are able from the outset to mitigate any risk,” he said. “In imposing legislation and strengthening some legislation you involuntarily expose people to risk over which they have no control.” This, he added, was because “in the structure of governance in Jamaica there are some persons who have responsibilities but don’t necessarily always have authority as the authority rest elsewhere”, an issue which he said Parliament would have to sit down and carefully examine.

The group, he said, had pointed out certain examples which he would have to take into consideration.

“Whilst we move ahead with these amendments of legislation, we also have to look at making sure there is an alignment between our party and responsibility so that people who bear responsibility are not exposed to a risk they have no authority over,” he insisted.

An example of this, Holness said, are executive agencies, which are governed by law and which, although the agencies report to a minister, there is a permanent secretary who acts as the accounting officer.

He said that we would have to look carefully at not just one piece of legislation but had to take into its entirety the governance system, the institutions and the framework of government.

“Otherwise you will have people exposed and what that means is that people would be very careful to take risk or use initiative…,” said the prime minister.

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